Understanding the Atonement

There is no single comprehensive way to interpret the Atonement through the sacrifice of Christ. But in the New Testament, helpful analogies and images, when taken together, provide insight into its meaning.

1. Ransom

Jesus himself indicated that he had come as a redeemer to give his life a ransom (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6). The term 'ransom' was used in the slave markets of the ancient world where a slave was set free through the payment, but another person, of a redemptive price. This picture illustrates our captivity to sin and shows there is a price to be paid if we are to be set free. Our redemption is costly.

2. The law courts

Another concept was borrowed from the law courts: anyone who breaks the law, which is given for our good, deserves punishment. In God's morally ordered world sin has consequences. Jesus paid the penalty and bore the cost of sin on our behalf: "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5). Christ voluntarily accepted punishment as a substitute for us (John 10:11-18; John 15:3).

3. Redemptive sacrifice

Another New Testament picture of the Atonement emphasizes that Christ became the once-for-all sacrifice which buys our salvation (Hebrews 10:10-14). He gave himself for our sin and so fulfilled the purpose of the great sacrifices of the Hebrew faith, to restore the fellowship between God and human beings (Matthew 26:28). the death of Christ provides a way by which all people can be reconciled to God (Ephesians 1:7). His was a vicarious sacrifice made on behalf of others. It was not made for his own sin, for he was sinless: it was made for us - on behalf of humanity (Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

4. Victory over sin

The New Testament describes Christ's sacrifice as a victory over sin and over the powers of evil which imprison humanity. By our faith in what he has done for us we participate in the achievement of Christ's sacrifice. The Cross, the place of seeming defeat, is actually the place of triumph. Christ's victory on the Cross becomes our victory (Colossians 2:13-15).

5. Self-giving love

The Cross of Jesus is at the heart of the reconciling work of God. It is also the most effective picture of self-giving love (Romans 5:8). We can be drawn to it or repelled by it, but, when acknowledged, few can remain indifferent to the God it reveals. It is a call to be reconciled  to the God of the Cross, and to love as he loved us (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Our atonement is made possible at the great cost of the sacrifice of Christ.

"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Christ did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He embraced our sin that we might share in his righteousness (Romans 5:18-19).