Christ’s Example of Unjust Suffering
Substitutionary Atonement; What IS Atonement?
1 Peter 3:18
1 Peter Lesson #107
October 19, 2017
“Father, we’re thankful we can come together this evening to fellowship around Your Word. Father, we love You. We love Your Word. We desire to know You through Your Word. The only way to know You and to grow and mature as believers is to learn Your Word and to have it change the way we think and the way we live.
“Father, we’re thankful we have this time to be challenged in our thinking, to come to understand some of the important teaching of Scripture that is often misunderstood. Often, it is not probed. It is not explained. It is just taught as if somehow people know what it says. Help us to understand this concept of atonement and how important it is for understanding Your magnificent grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are in 1 Peter 3. It has been about a month since we were here because the intervening weeks involved my absence due to vacation during which time we covered Psalm 19. I covered that last week to bring that subseries to a conclusion. Tonight, we’re going back to understanding this doctrine, this teaching of Scripture called substitutionary atonement.
Before I left, we talked about substitutionary. What does that mean and the idea that Christ substituted for us? That is pictured in all the Old Testament sacrifices where the animal that was sacrificed would bear the sin of the person, ritually would bear that because, of course, the blood of bulls and goats, as the writer of Hebrews said, cannot take away sin. We talked about substitutionary.
Last time, we talked about atonement. Part of what we covered last time was to understand some of the wrong views of atonement in the early church and up through the medieval period. Of the various different ways in which atonement was approached, only one got close, and that was Anselm around AD 1000. Yet, it wasn’t locked down right. He wasn’t right on target. Not until the Reformation period, following Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, the leaders of the Reformation, John Knox in Scotland, in the 1500s, this came to be understood much more.
As we’re studying through 1 Peter, we come to this explanation in 1 Peter 3:18. This is really fundamental. On Sunday morning I talked about Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to the Father to “let this cup pass from Me.” We connected that back to Matthew 20 where after the mother of James and John came to Jesus and said, “I want my boys to be sitting on Your left and right hand in the Kingdom!” Jesus said to the disciples, “They can only do that if they’re willing to drink the cup that I’m going to drink and be baptized with the baptism I’m baptized with.” That’s important! When we get into the full development here in 1 Peter 3:18, there’s discussion of baptism.
We’re talking about Christ’s suffering on the Cross. I think the backdrop for understanding some of this is going back to that discussion related to Christ’s payment for sin. It was not His death on the Cross. It’s interesting that when we get into Peter, Peter didn’t use the word death. He didn’t say, “Christ died for our sins.” That’s very specific.
He wanted to use a more general term that could transfer to us by way of application. He didn’t say, “Christ died for our sins” because we can’t do that. We can’t emulate that. Christ suffered unjustly for our sins. That’s the theme of Peter, this undeserved suffering. Just as Jesus’ suffering was undeserved, so when we face undeserved suffering, we are to follow Christ’s example.
He was bringing this out in 1 Peter 3:18. We need to break down these ideas, so we understand them more completely. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.” It continued.
We want to look at the phrase—and we have looked at the phrase—“once for sins” and the phrase “the just for the unjust.” Notice the purpose clause there, the statement “that He might bring us to God.” This brings to our minds the idea of reconciliation, to be restored to the original relationship God had with human beings in the Garden of Eden.
Before sin ever cast its shadow on the human race and before there was spiritual death, we were united with God. Now there is separation. That reconciliation is so much a part of the idea of atonement. We talked about that a little bit in the past.
Once for all: the Greek word HAPAX means only one time. He died only one time for sins. I thought about this a lot when we were on vacation in Italy because we probably visited well over twenty-five different churches. Of course, those weren’t Protestant churches. They were not Greek Orthodox, which is just as bad as Roman Catholic in this area. They were Roman Catholic churches. I got tired of seeing the artwork that depicted Mary as the Queen of Heaven because it’s about the deification of Mary. The Catholics don’t necessarily say this, but Protestants always criticize Catholics for this because the mass is an ongoing sacrifice. The Catholic crucifix always depicts Jesus on the cross, whereas, on a Protestant cross, Jesus is not on the cross because it’s making the point that it was a once for all death.
I think that criticism might be pressed a little more because a lot of the artwork was designed to focus people’s attention on certain things. I think there is a value in focusing on Christ on the Cross because it should be used—if it’s done correctly, and I don’t think it was through much of that time—to focus our attention on what is going on when Jesus was on the Cross. What was happening? Why was Jesus being on the Cross important? That was when the penalty was paid.
The empty Cross reminds us of resurrection. It reminds us that it’s completed, but it also reminds us of resurrection. Resurrection in the New Testament seems to be mostly oriented, as it is in Romans 6:3–5, on emphasizing the new life that we have in Christ. We’ll get into all of that. It’s all related to baptism by the Spirit. We’ll touch it tonight, touch it in the coming verses, and it’s part of this passage.
Christ suffered “once for sins” 1 Peter 3:18. It’s not ongoing, which is what you have in the Roman Catholic mass, their idea of transubstantiation. Protestants don’t understand this stuff. We have knee-jerk reactions. We cannot understand transubstantiation without understanding Aristotelian categories, that everything that is material is made up of two categories, two things. One is substance; the other is attributes.
Look at this bottle of water. You can’t see the substance of it. You can see its color, you can see its height, you can see its width, you can see what it contains, but the substance is invisible. The attributes are what give it any kind of form or shape or color or temperature. All of that is part of the attributes. Substance is unseen, almost immaterial.
In the term transubstantiation, substance is transformed. That’s what transubstantiation means. The bread is the substance you don’t see; you just see the attributes. The substance changes into the body of Christ. In the cup, you just see the wine—it’s red; it’s liquid. The substance that you can’t see is what is transformed. This is the idea of transubstantiation, that the bread and the cup in the Lord’s Table, the underlying invisible substance, is changed. You can’t see it change. That’s their doctrine. That’s what that means.
In their view of the mass, Jesus is crucified every time they have the mass. It’s not once for all. In biblical Christianity, we have it right here, “For Christ also suffered once for sins.” The word there “for sins” is not a term of substitution. It’s the preposition PERI, which means with reference to sins. He died with reference to sins, in other words, to pay that penalty.
The substitutionary aspect comes in in the next phrase “the Just for the unjust.” That’s the preposition HUPER. Sometimes another preposition is used, but this is the primary one that is used for substitution. This has introduced our topic. It’s always referred to in theology as substitutionary atonement. We have to ask the question, “What is atonement?” because it’s not a word used in the New Testament. You can look from Matthew to Revelation, and you won’t find it. It’s an Old Testament word, an Old Testament concept.
In Leviticus 5:6, we see the phrase related to bringing the trespass offering as a basis for making atonement. The verb there is kaphar. It’s in the piel tense, which is an intensified form of the meaning of the word, whichever verb appears in that stem. I pointed this out last time. In older understandings, the idea of kaphar was to cover.
There are two words that are spelled and sound alike in Hebrew, kaphar and kaphar. There is the kaphar that relates to the ark when Noah used bitumen and pitch to seal it and it was covered. Then, there is the word used for atonement. For many years, it was thought they were the same word because they are homophones, but it has been demonstrated that they come from different roots. That’s demonstrable by looking at other Semitic languages, so you have “make atonement.”
Exodus 30:10 has “the sin offering of atonement.” There it’s a noun. “And Aaron shall make atonement”—that’s the verb—“upon its horns”—that’s on the altar—“once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement.” That happened on the Day of Atonement. “Once a year he shall make atonement”—that’s the verb again—“upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy”—that is, it is set apart—“to the Lord.” This is the noun. It is used in the plural, and it has the idea—notice—of atonement but also the idea of cleansing, forgiving, and wiping clean.
In Leviticus 4:20, the same verb is used.
We need to ask this question, “What does this mean?” We’re going to study what the Bible teaches about substitutionary atonement. This time, we’re emphasizing the atonement aspect, not the substitutionary aspect.
By way of review, we saw that certain key ideas in the early church related to atonement.
1. They did understand that it was a penalty. Sometimes you will hear that word penal substitution. It’s paying a penalty. Last time, we talked about Abelard’s view of moral influence. They had the moral example view, and they also had the governmental view of the atonement. These were not penal substitutionary views. This was where Jesus was somehow demonstrating the justice and righteousness of God, and that should motivate us to live for God. It always leads to a works-based salvation. But in the early church, they understood that a penalty was paid. They just thought that the penalty was paid to Satan. We call that the ransom-to-Satan view.
2. They clearly understood substitution. They just didn’t analyze it and develop it as it was later in the Reformation. They understood that Jesus died in the place of sinners, but they were just quoting Scripture. He died, “the Just for the unjust.” They didn’t take it out and analyze it and explain it.
That was typical of the early church in the second, third, and fourth centuries. When they did finally start analyzing things, it was like, “Who is Jesus and what’s His relationship to the Father? Is He fully God, or was He created sometime in eternity past?” They had to work out the deity of Jesus. That was resolved and articulated in the Nicene Creed in AD 325.
Then, they had to decide what Jesus was before He came and what Jesus was when He came. Those things were all worked out in the great Christological controversies that dominated the fourth and fifth centuries, concluding in AD 451 at the Council of Chalcedon. I mentioned that. We covered that the last time.
3. They understood that the work was directed to the Father although that was not really worked out consistently because they still predominantly went with this ransom-to-Satan view. There was a lot of fuzziness that was not clarified.
4. Tertullian, an early church father, late second century, lived in north Africa. He came out of a cult at the time called Montanism, which was sort of a proto-charismatic version of Christianity. But he was a good thinker in some areas, and he gave us the word “Trinitas.” He coined that word. Nobody had ever used that before. Anybody after Tertullian could think about the Godhead as a Trinity. That vocabulary term crystallized the relation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in ways the Apostle Paul couldn’t articulate because he never used the word Trinity.
That always surprises people. We have a richer, more precise theological vocabulary today that’s been developed through church history. We can think more precisely about some things than the Apostles did, at least from what they wrote, because they didn’t have these technical vocabulary words. Tertullian introduced the idea that it’s related to propitiation. He began to develop what Paul said about propitiation and that the atonement is a satisfaction of God.
5. Irenaeus had a recapitulation view. It didn’t catch on for very long, but he did emphasize the idea that it’s a penalty and that it is substitutionary.
This understanding of the atonement, like everything else in the early church, was simple. It was not complex. It was not analyzed. They mostly just repeated the words and phrases of Scripture without explaining what they meant. By the middle of the third century, around AD 250, because of the influence of Origen and, in the next century, Augustine, the emphasis turned to allegorical interpretation, so a lot of this got lost. It was not recovered until the Reformation when the church went back to a literal interpretation.
Quickly, we just looked at the ransom-to-Satan view.
We looked at Irenaeus and his recapitulation theory of the atonement.
And Abelard and his moral encouragement view. We connected that to the Grotian view of the atonement and the example view of the atonement.
The main idea was substitution as articulated, somewhat weakly, by Anselm. That’s the view we hold, substitutionary atonement.
Now, our question is, “What is the atonement? Where did it come from?” This idea—I’ve already started explaining it. Kaphar is a word that means, literally, to make atonement. “What does that mean? Where do we get this word atonement?” We’ll look at this in just a minute. Kaphar means to cleanse, to wipe clean, the idea of forgiveness. That’s what forgiveness is, to erase something, to wipe it clean. You write on the chalkboard or you write on a whiteboard, and you just wipe it off and it’s empty. What we’ll learn is that the words for forgiveness have this same idea of eradicating a debt. It definitely has this economic idea. It is used that way of canceling a debt that is owed.
It is usually categorized as meaning to atone for or to make expiation. I think expiation is a good word, but it’s antiquated, and people don’t understand what that means anymore. “Make amends for something, to free from sin, to purify”—there’s that idea of cleansing again—“to effect a ransom for.” This is The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew.
The Septuagint, the Greek translation that the rabbis made of the Hebrew Old Testament, translated kaphar many, many times with either KATHARIZO, which is the verb form, or KATHARISMOS, which is the noun that means to purify, to purge, or to cleanse. BDB, which is an older lexicon, came out in 1918 and is the one most people use. It says, “perhaps cover—that goes to that other word—but primarily related to the Arabic cognate for wiping clean.” It’s a strong visual word. In fact, the Akkadian word, which is also a cognate, has this same idea. It’s the idea of something being wiped away. It communicates this idea that something has been canceled or written over. That’s the picture of atonement. The English word atonement was coined to express this idea, but it seems to emphasize reconciliation more. It’s the idea, as we’ll see, of at-one-ment.
Some of you may have seen this. Some of you may have one. It’s called The Complete Word Study Dictionary, where you have numbers related to Strong’s numbers and Strong’s Concordance. It was put together by a native Greek-speaking Greek scholar named Spiros Zodhiates. I like him because he sort of splits the middle between the overly simplified definitions in Strong’s Concordance or Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words and the more technical, scholarly sources like Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich and some of those.
As he defined kaphar, he brought out these ideas. “This word is of supreme theological importance in the Old Testament as it is central to an Old Testament understanding of the remission of sin.” Remission means forgiveness. If we’re going to understand what the Bible says about how we’re forgiven of sin, we have to understand atonement. That is critical to it. He also said, “It is therefore employed to signify the cancellation or ‘writing over’ of a contract.” It was used that way in Isaiah 28:18.
Keep that in mind, the idea of canceling something, because when we get into this a little further tonight, we’re going to get into Colossians 2:12–14. In those verses, we have the idea that on the Cross, Christ canceled the decree that was set against us. What’s being portrayed in Colossians 2:12–-14 is how forgiveness was established on the Cross, what happened there.
Four points on atonement:
1. It came from the English phrase at-one-ment, the idea of bringing two things together, at-one-ment, and it emphasized reconciliation. That’s one word that was used in the Bible to describe what happened on the Cross. We have peace with God. The barrier is wiped out. That doesn’t mean we’re saved. It means Christ paid the penalty for sin, and the barrier is no longer a problem.
2. The blood sacrifice, which is very much a part of the Day of Atonement, related to the payment price, redemption. Reconciliation is related to atonement, to kaphar. Redemption is related to kaphar. Look at what happened on the Day of Atonement. Let me just rehearse it briefly. We’ll get there in just a minute. Two goats were taken. One was sacrificed, and the blood was put on the ark of the covenant. The other one, the priest put his hand on the animal, substitutionary, and recited the sins of Israel. That scapegoat was then taken so far out in the wilderness that it couldn’t find its way back, picturing the fact that God completely removes the sin from us. That’s what forgiveness does.
3. When the blood was put on the mercy seat, that was a picture of propitiation because that was the whole point of this word HILASTERION that was used in Romans 3 by Paul to talk about propitiation.
4. God was propitiated, satisfied, when He looked at the Cross and Christ. The perfect Lamb of God, unblemished, sinless, paid the penalty, the righteousness of God was satisfied, and the justice of God declared that the sin penalty had been paid.
We have reconciliation, redemption, propitiation, and in the last category, expiation and forgiveness. These were all demonstrated in those Old Testament Day of Atonement sacrifices.
We see that atonement itself has many facets. At the core is this Hebrew word, kaphar. In places, it speaks of redemption; in other places, of expiation, the canceling of the debt; in other places, of propitiation, the satisfaction of God’s righteousness and justice; in other places, of the bringing together of those that were at one time enemies; and forgiveness. All are part of atonement. That’s what that word means.
It is sad today, because of biblical illiteracy and theological illiteracy, that people don’t understand these big words that were used in the King James Bible. This has been going on for thirty years. More and more modern translations don’t use these words because they’re not user-friendly to anybody who’s been educated in the last thirty or forty or fifty years even. We lose the complexity because we just want simplicity.
The Old Testament gave us pictures of the atonement. It gave us these pictures in the Day of Atonement, which is described in Luke 16. It was a complex ceremony. It involved special priestly garments. It involved five different sacrificial animals. A bull had to be sacrificed for the cleansing of the priest. Two goats were used. Also, two rams were sacrificed. A certain specific incense was used. There was the purification, cleansing, of the holy place where all of this was going to take place.
At the very center of the whole ceremony, the whole ritual, was the ark of the covenant. The ark of the covenant was a box. That’s what ark means. It just means a box. It was a wooden box made of acacia wood, which is an extremely dense, hard, impermeable wood. Why do you think God had them use acacia wood? It pictured the humanity of Christ that is sinless. It was not penetrated by sin or corruption. Acacia wood was used. It was covered over with gold. The gold pictured the deity of Christ. All of the pieces of furniture in the tabernacle that used acacia wood covered with gold symbolized that hypostatic union of the God-Man.
Inside the ark was placed the broken tablets of the Law, indicating human sin. The two angels on top represented the justice and righteousness of God. The blood would have been placed on the mercy seat. That’s what this was called. It was called kaphoret from the same word kaphar. It was the mercy seat. Justice and righteousness looked down on the blood, which signified a death for the purification of sin, and it was satisfied. It’s a wonderful picture of how God’s character was satisfied by the sacrifice of Christ.
You see it here in this picture. Here is the priest bringing the blood sacrifice to the mercy seat. Over here, the other goat was being taken out into the wilderness where the sins were removed. It was a picture of forgiveness, of sin forgiven and sin forgotten.
To get into some technicality here, we need to turn to a New Testament passage. I love this passage. I think this passage is foundational to understanding forgiveness, but I also think that it is rarely handled well. It is, unfortunately, superficially handled because it’s difficult to explain without getting into a lot of technicality in Greek grammar. I’ll put half of you to sleep tonight, probably, but this is how we have to break this down to really understand what was going on here.
I have a few verses to look at ahead of time as a backdrop to understanding Colossians 2. In Colossians 1:13–14, Paul said, “He”—meaning the Father—“has delivered us from the power of darkness”—because we were slaves to sin—“and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” That doesn’t mean we’re in the Kingdom yet. It’s proleptic. That means it has to do with the future.
The Kingdom will come. Once we’re saved, we’re in the Kingdom. It’s not present now. The Messianic Kingdom is the idea, and the Messiah is not crowned yet. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father in Heaven. According to Revelation 3:20, He is seated on His Father’s throne, not on His throne. He will not receive the crown until the end of the Tribulation period, just before He descends to the earth. That’s pictured in Daniel 7 when the Son of Man will come to the Ancient of Days and be given the Kingdom. It hasn’t happened yet. He is seated now, and it won’t be until the future when He will be given it. Then, He will come to the earth. When that happens, we will be in His Kingdom. We will be with the King. We are the bride of the King.
Colossians 1:14 says, “… in whom we have redemption through His blood.” That comes out of that Old Testament picture of the purchase of sin. “We have redemption through His blood.” Then, there’s this phrase, “the forgiveness of sins.” “… redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”
In what sense are we forgiven by the blood of Christ on the Cross? In what sense are we forgiven when Christ died on the Cross in AD 30? Most people think they’re not forgiven until they trust in Christ, but what we’re seeing in Colossians is a sense in which we are forgiven, not just we as believers, but we as Gentiles. That was the backdrop for Colossians. He was talking to them as believers, but it would apply to all mankind. This is the point of Colossians 1:13–14.
Then, we skip down to Colossians 1:19. “For it pleased the Father that in Him”—that is, in Christ—“all the fullness should dwell.” That’s the fullness of deity. He had all the attributes of God. He was fully God, undiminished deity. “… and by Him to reconcile …” Here we bring in this other idea of reconciliation. “… by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him”—that is, by Christ—“whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”
The idea there is that the Cross made peace actually in history in AD 33. Not when you and I trusted Jesus as our Savior but in AD 33 there was a transaction that took place on the Cross. In that transaction, peace was established between man and God so that sin is no longer the issue. The barrier between man and God was eradicated. That doesn’t mean human beings are saved. It means the sin problem was solved and is not the issue.
You’ll hear all these evangelists who will twist everybody’s guilt and talk about all the sins that you’ve committed. Well, that’s not the issue. You’re spiritually dead—that is the issue. You need to understand sin from the vantage point of the fact that you are spiritually dead, but Christ made the peace through the blood of His Cross. There, you have the idea of His death. The blood always speaks of His death. You have reconciliation. You have peace. In the previous passage in verses 13 and 14, we had redemption, and we had forgiveness. All of these relate to the idea of atonement. Obviously, Paul was breaking down these categories.
Colossians 1:21 says, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death ...” That reconciliation didn’t occur when the Colossians trusted in Christ as Savior. The reconciliation happened, objectively, at the Cross related to propitiation. “Y… yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death ...” He didn’t say, “He has reconciled by your faith in Jesus.” He said, “He has reconciled in the body of His flesh”—Christ’s flesh when He died on the Cross—“through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach.” That was the purpose for Christ’s death, to be able to present us holy and blameless before God. That lays the foundation in the introduction of Colossians.
Let’s turn the page to Colossians 2. We’re going to look at Colossians 2:11–14. “In Him …” Who’s the Him? Jesus. “In Him”—that phrase in Paul often relates to our position in Jesus. To have position in Jesus means you have had to have already, even if it’s only a millisecond, a nanosecond before, trusted in Christ as Savior. By being in Him, something happened in that transaction of being placed in Him. That’s what Paul talked about in Romans 6:3–5.
At that instant that you and I trusted in Christ as Savior, we were identified legally with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. That identification was baptism, and that’s the description of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Romans 3–5. This is all fundamental to what’s going on in 1 Peter in the next few verses after the one we’re studying.
Colossians 2:11 says, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” I don’t have this up on a slide, but I have it summarized a little bit right here at the top of this slide. “In Him, you were also circumcised ...” What does that mean? That means that at that instant of faith, something happened. It’s a spiritual circumcision, which was alluded to in the Old Testament. It is not the circumcision made with hands that’s significant, but the spiritual circumcision because removal of the flesh in circumcision is a picture of the removal of the power of the sin nature.
Paul said, “In Him you were also… It’s past tense. When did it happen in your life? It happened at salvation. “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” It’s not physical. It’s spiritual. It’s a spiritual transaction where the sin nature’s power is removed. That’s Romans 6, all of Romans 6. Because we’re no longer under the tyranny of the sin nature, we can walk in newness of life. “… circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh …” That’s the idea of removing that authority of the sin nature, that tyranny of the sin nature. We still have it, but we no longer are forced to follow it. “… by the circumcision of Christ …” He is the One Who does that in the spiritual transaction that we call the baptism by the Holy Spirit.
In Colossians 2:12, he went on, “… buried with Him in baptism …” This is where it starts to get a little bit confusing. This is where your eyes are going to glaze over. If you look at that in English, “buried” looks like a finite verb, but it’s not. That’s why I’ve underlined it here. These verbs that are underlined all through this chart are participles in the Greek.
A participle is not a finite verb. It is saying something about the finite verb. A participle is a verbal adjective, meaning that sometimes it acts like an adjective. The Greek says that an adjective is a noun that just says something about another noun. When we talk about the black robe, black is usually thought of as an adjective because it’s a color, but it’s a noun. Black is a noun, and black modifies another noun, robe.
They understood this, and this is very much a part of understanding how language works. When you say something is a noun, it’s modified by an adjective, but this is a verbal adjective, which means a participle can also function with a verbal idea. It usually modifies a verb, and that’s what is called an adverb. All of these are adverbial. We know that in Greek very objectively because it doesn’t have an article associated with it. An article always separates out a noun function.
It is saying something about the verb, but what is it saying? This is where it gets a little subjective because there are about eight different uses of the adverbial participle. It can be saying something about cause. It can be saying something about time, which is the idea of after or before or when. It can be saying something about means, that is, the means by which something is done. It can be saying something about manner.
There’s nothing objective in the text that tells you, “This is what an adverbial participle means,” or “It’s an adverbial participle of cause.” You have to sort of play with what I call fill in the blank, the process of elimination.
You might look at a participle and translate it by means, but that doesn’t make sense at all. Now, if you translate it as because of, that makes a lot more sense. That’s how you go through that process. Sometimes, it can make sense in either of a couple of different options, but usually they’re pretty clear. We’ll see an example of that in just a minute.
Colossians 2:12 says, “… buried with Him in baptism …” The main verb is “you were circumcised,” so how does the phrase “you were buried with him in baptism” describe circumcision? That’s interesting because it probably has the idea, as we’ll see, of cause or time.
“You were circumcised because you were buried with Him in baptism” might work. “You were circumcised when you were buried with Him in baptism” makes a lot of sense because the baptism by the Holy Spirit is what’s being described by that term “circumcision of the flesh.” What is being said here is, “You were circumcised when you were buried with Him in baptism,” or “You were circumcised by being …” That would be means.
More than likely, it’s either temporal or it’s means. “… by being buried with Him in baptism …” In or by indicates means, which refers back to baptism. By this baptism—by which baptism—you were raised together with Him. That’s another participle there. “… by which baptism you were raised together with Him.” That is talking about the means. It’s that “by that baptism you were raised with Him.”
How does that take place? At the instant we’re saved, we’re raised together with Christ. We have newness of life. That’s Romans 6. It goes on in Colossians 2:13. Look at this in your Bible. You should be making some of these notes and drawing some lines between some of these words.
It says, “… and you being dead ...” This is another participle. It could be a participle of cause, because you were dead, but it’s probably a participle of time, when you were dead, or what’s called a concessive participle, though you were dead. In other words, what it’s emphasizing—we know this because the main verb down here is an aorist tense, and we have an aorist participle, so that either happens at the same time, or this is describing our condition just before we are made alive together with Him, which is probably what it’s doing.
“… and you being dead …” You were and had been dead, not physically because they were still alive. This has to be spiritual death, which is separation from God. Because of Ephesians 2:1, which says the same thing, and this verse, we know that every person is born spiritually dead, separated from God. They are not born physically dead. They are born spiritually dead.
Paul was describing here the condition of every human being until he has believed in Christ as Savior. He said, “… and you being dead”—when you were dead or though you were dead—“in your trespasses and uncircumcision of the flesh …” The reason he used “uncircumcision of the flesh” instead of sins is because he was emphasizing that the sin nature hadn’t been broken yet. We are still under that control of the sin nature. What He did was, “He made you alive together with Him.” Wow! We are made alive!
Something else happens. How does He make us alive? Many dimensions to that question we can’t answer, but the next phrase answers some of that. We have another participle for forgiveness. How does “He forgave” relate to “He made you alive?” The main verb, to make alive, is an aorist tense, a simple past tense. The participle here is an aorist participle. There is a basic rule in Greek. If it’s an aorist participle, it precedes the action in the main verb. If it’s a present participle, it’s at the same time as the action of the main verb. If it’s a future participle, it comes after the time of the action of the main verb.
If it’s an aorist verb and an aorist participle, it can either be that the participle came first and then the main verb, or they can happen at the same time. Context tells us that this idea of forgiveness is the canceling of sin, which happened when He nailed it to the Cross. Because of the context, we say, “This action of forgiveness took place before He made you alive.” “He made you alive together with Him” either by forgiving when He forgave or because He forgave. Since this precedes that, it would be not when but after. I need to correct that slide. It would be after He forgave you all trespasses.
There was a forgiveness in AD 33 that was enacted at the Cross. That’s described in the next verse. Sin was canceled. It was eradicated. There was true forgiveness for every single human being, every Muslim, every Hindu, every atheist, every works-based Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon. There was forgiveness that happened for each one in AD 33.
What happens down here? Because He had canceled. That is, again, an aorist participle, which means it precedes the action up here. And it’s causal. He made you alive together because He forgave you—or after He forgave you of all trespasses—because He had canceled that sin. That’s the beginning. “Having wiped out”—or canceled—“the handwriting of requirements.” He did it when He nailed it to the Cross.
I just told you what we’re going to say. Now I’m going to go through the details again. Try to get it to sink in. This is so important because what this is telling us is that everybody’s sins were nailed to the Cross in AD 33, and God wiped them out! Sin is not the issue anymore. That doesn’t mean that people are not born spiritually dead anymore. They are. That’s what he talked about here, being “made alive together” because they’re born spiritually dead. Even though Christ effected forgiveness, they have to be born again, and that’s going to be a second kind of forgiveness.
The “being dead” emphasizes their ongoing condition. “… being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh …” modifies “He has made alive.” This present participle of “being dead” happens at the same time as the action of the verb. That means at the time that we’re made alive, we’re spiritually dead. In an instant in time, He makes us alive together with Him. It can be understood as when you were dead in your trespasses or though you were dead in your trespasses, He made you alive. God changed us from dead people to living people, so that as John 10:10 says, we can have life, and we can have it abundantly.
Our status is dead, not physically but spiritually. That’s important. I’ve had some people say, “There’s really no basis for saying that what happened in Genesis 3 is that they died spiritually. It was physical death.” Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 tell us that we are born dead.
He makes us alive is regeneration. “He”—the Father—“has made alive together with Him”—the Son. The same thing is said in Ephesians 2:5, “… even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
In some way, it’s related to forgiveness. Forgiveness is two words in the Greek. One is APHIEMI, which is the word that is used over in John 3:16, that God forgives us. The other word is CHARIZOMAI, from a root for grace. It emphasizes the graciousness of the action of forgiveness. Again, notice it’s an aorist participle, so it precedes the action of being made alive because He had already canceled your trespasses. That’s that word CHARIZOMAI.
Why do I use that word canceled? Because this is an economic word. It can mean to give freely or graciously. It’s used in Luke 7:42 for canceling a debt, a financial debt, canceling a sum of money or a debt that is owed. That’s done freely or graciously, so those are not totally separate ideas. It comes to mean to forgive or pardon an action. He has made you alive because He had already canceled this debt. He repeated that idea with different words in the next verse.
He has forgiven us all debt. It should be translated “because He had already forgiven or canceled” or “after He had already forgiven or canceled.” I think it is probably “because.” “He has made us alive together”—He is able to do that—“because He had already canceled the sin.”
In Greek, as I mentioned a minute ago, the primary word for forgiveness is APHIEMI. APHESIS is the noun. It has this idea of letting something go, canceling, remitting something, canceling a debt, pardoning, forgiveness.
The second word that is used is CHARIZOMAI, to show favor or kindness. It emphasizes the grace basis of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an action of grace. We see that word used in Ephesians 4:32, that we are to forgive one another “even as God in Christ forgave you.” It emphasizes the grace basis for that. It’s not based on works.
We would translate this, He made you alive together with Him because He had already forgiven us—or released us or canceled—from all our transgressions. The next verse begins, “by”—or when—“He canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” That last part is really important because it says that it happened when He nailed it to the Cross, not when you believed in 1956 or 1965 or 1980. He did it when Christ died on the Cross. That canceled the sin. That was a forgiveness.
That’s when we’re released.
He has forgiven, CHARIZOMAI, is directly related to this word, EXALEIPHO, which means, to wipe out, wipe away, blot out, rub out, erase, eradicate, or remove. That cancels out that debt.
We see this all through the Old Testament. Psalm 51:9 was David’s prayer of confession. “Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.” This is the Hebrew word MAHA. In Isaiah 43:25, God said, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins.” God is not going to hold it against us.
Peter used this in his sermon. He used the same word that was used here in Colossians 2. In Acts 3:19, he said, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” Christ blotted them out at the Cross, but there’s obviously another way in which its personalized when we trust in Christ as Savior. There are at least two different kinds of forgiveness here, one that wipes out the debt of sin at the Cross and another that is applied to the individual when they believe in Jesus.
The translations are a little difficult. It’s a handwritten decree against us. It uses that word DOGMA, which has to do with a decree or a set of rules. Basically, it’s an indictment against us for sin that is removed.
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That certificate of debt is then canceled, eradicated, wiped out, and removed.
Who is the “us?” He canceled out the decree against “us.” “Us” is talking about all mankind. He was addressing Gentiles, so it was applied to Gentiles. He was not saying “us believers”, because if it happened at the Cross, it applies to all mankind. It was hostile to us. It was taken out of the way.
It was taken out of the way—AIRO—to lift up or remove it, which is sometimes used in forgiveness passages as well, not to mean forgiveness, but that’s what happened. It was removed. It’s a perfect tense verb, which means it is action that was completed in the past. It was hostile to us, and He took it out of the way. It was finished. He took it out of the way back in AD 33. That completed it.
He did it by nailing it to the Cross. That is so critical! That’s the message of the gospel. We have been forgiven! It’s established at the Cross. It has to be applied to us because we’re still spiritually dead. When we believe in Jesus, then that forgiveness is applied to us.
We see different categories of forgiveness in the New Testament.
1. First of all, a forgiveness toward God where the justice of God canceled the debt of sin is what I call forensic or courtroom forgiveness. It happened at the Cross so that all mankind is forgiven. That certificate of debt was wiped out.
2. The second category is that we are forgiven positionally in Christ. That’s that “circumcision made without hands.” We are forgiven at that point, Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14. We have as our possession redemption, the forgiveness of sin. That’s that forgiveness. It is ours in Christ.
3. A third forgiveness is experiential forgiveness. That happens when we have disobeyed God, and we sin. When a child disobeys his parents, there is a barrier between the child and the parents. Rapport is broken down. It’s not like the barrier of sin. It is just that that rapport is broken down and has to be restored. When we confess the sin, we’re cleansed. That’s the emphasis there. It’s not confession. You’ve got to do something to be cleansed from sin at any time after salvation, and that’s 1 John 1:9.
4. Then, there’s relational forgiveness, Ephesians 4:32. That’s CHARIZOMAI. We forgive one another “as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us.”
1. Sin is not the issue at salvation. The individual’s sin is not the issue at salvation. Your sin is not the issue at salvation. It’s Christ and His work on the Cross that’s the issue. Because He paid the penalty, He canceled the debt. Are you willing to accept that?
2. This does not mean that sin, the sin penalty, and the reality of a person’s spiritual death is ignored. Gene Brown and I used to talk about this for hours. For years, we worked through this stuff. You don’t preach their sin, but they do have to understand that, because of Adam’s original sin, they are spiritually dead, and that’s why they sin. It’s a sign of their corruption, but that sin is paid for, and they need forgiveness. You can’t preach forgiveness if people don’t understand they need it. It’s not about making them feel guilty about it and making it an issue. The issue is Christ.
3. The focal point is always grace. The emphasis is on forgiveness in the sense that Christ paid it all at the Cross. We don’t add anything to it whatsoever.
4. The point of application beyond the gospel is that it’s all paid at the Cross. He solved the greatest problem we will ever face, so He can solve any other problem we face.
That’s the emphasis in atonement. It is reconciliation. It is expiation; the debt is canceled. It’s redemption; it’s paid for. It is forgiveness; it is wiped out. All of those things are part of what is explained in the New Testament, but it doesn’t use that word atonement.
Now, we can go forward in 1 Peter because we understand what is happening here. All that we have in Christ and our forgiveness are profound.
“Father, thank You for this time to study this, to be impressed with how much You’ve done for us, the many facets of Christ’s work on the Cross, that Your justice was satisfied, that the penalty for sin, the certificate of debt, was canceled. There is forgiveness. It was paid for—redemption.
“Father, because of all of this, we can be reconciled to You because that barrier has been removed. The issue is simply faith alone, trusting alone in Christ, not in Christ plus works or anything else, but only faith in only Christ.
“Now, Father, we pray You will challenge us and that we might rejoice in our forgiveness of sin. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”