One of the most important topics for understanding how the whole Bible fits together is the relationship between the Law and the Gospel. Alex Chediak, who happens to be a friend of mine, has recently published a six part series on Romans 9:30-10:6 on his blog. For those who are interested click here.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
For those who are building their theological libraries the following article should prove helpful. Dr. Tom Schreiner offers a wonderful review of Dr. Douglas Moo's commentary on Paul's letter to the Romans. Schreiner's review is a great example of a heart that longs for God's people to understand the book of Romans. Rather than feeling "threatened" by Moo's commentary Schreiner commends it and welcomes it with open arms. In my opinion Schreiner and Moo have written two of the best commentaries on Romans in the last twenty-five years. For a similar assessment of these two commentaries by Alex Chediak click here.
D.A. Carson discusses five key reasons for why the doctrine of penal substitution has come under attack in the following article:
Why Is the Doctrine of Penal Substitution Again Coming Under Attack?
by: D. A. Carson
A book could usefully be written on this subject. To keep things brief, I shall list a handful of developments that have contributed to this sad state of affairs.
(1) In recent years it has become popular to sketch the Bible's story-line something like this: Ever since the fall, God has been active to reverse the effects of sin. He takes action to limit sin's damage; he calls out a new nation, the Israelites, to mediate his teaching and his grace to others; he promises that one day he will come as the promised Davidic king to overthrow sin and death and all their wretched effects. This is what Jesus does: he conquers death, inaugurates the kingdom of righteousness, and calls his followers to live out that righteousness now in prospect of the consummation still to come.
Much of this description of the Bible's story-line, of course, is true. Yet it is so painfully reductionistic that it introduces a major distortion. It collapses human rebellion, God's wrath, and assorted disasters into one construct, namely, the degradation of human life, while depersonalizing the wrath of God. It thus fails to wrestle with the fact that from the beginning, sin is an offense against God. God himself pronounces the sentence of death (Gen 2-3). This is scarcely surprising, since God is the source of all life, so if his image-bearers spit in his face and insist on going their own way and becoming their own gods, they cut themselves off from their Maker, from the One who gives life. What is there, then, but death? Moreover, when we sin in any way, God himself is invariably the most offended party (Ps 51). The God the Bible portrays as resolved to intervene and save is also the God portrayed as full of wrath because of our sustained idolatry. As much as he intervenes to save us, he stands over against us as Judge, an offended Judge with fearsome jealousy.
Nor is this a matter of Old Testament theology alone. When Jesus announced the imminence of the dawning of the kingdom, like John the Baptist he cried, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt 4:17; cf. Mark 1:15). Repentance is necessary, because the coming of the King promises judgment as well as blessing. The sermon on the mount, which encourages Jesus' disciples to turn the other cheek, repeatedly warns them to flee the condemnation to the gehenna of fire. The sermon warns the hearers not to follow the broad road that leads to destruction, and pictures Jesus pronouncing final judgment with the words, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (7:23). The parables are replete with warnings of final judgment; a significant percentage of them demonstrate the essential divisiveness of the dawning of the kingdom. Images of hell--outer darkness, furnace of fire, weeping and gnashing of teeth, undying worms, eternal fire--are too ghastly to contemplate long. After Jesus' resurrection, when Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, he aims to convince his hearers that Jesus is the promised Messiah, that his death and resurrection are the fulfillment of Scripture, and that God “has made this Jesus, whom you crucified [he tells them], both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). That is every bit as much threat as promise: the hearers are “cut to the heart” and cry, “What shall we do?” (2:37). That is what elicits Peter's “Repent and believe” (3:38). When Peter preaches to Cornelius and his household, the climax of his moving address is that in fulfillment of Scripture God appointed Jesus “as judge of the living and the dead”--and thus not of Jews only. Those who believe in him receive “forgiveness of sins through his name”: transparently, that is what is essential if we are to face the judge and emerge unscathed. When he preaches to the Athenian pagan intellectuals, Paul, as we all know, fills in some of the great truths that constitute the matrix in which alone Jesus makes sense: monotheism, creation, who human beings are, God's aseity and providential sovereignty, the wretchedness and danger of idolatry. Before he is interrupted, however, Paul gets to the place in his argument where he insists that God has set a day “when he will judge the world with justice”--and his appointed judge is Jesus, whose authoritative status is established by his resurrection from the dead. When Felix invites the apostle to speak “about faith in Christ Jesus” (Acts 24:24), Paul, we are told, discourses “on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come” (24:15): apparently such themes are an irreducible part of faithful gospel preaching. Small wonder, then, that Felix was terrified (24:25). The Letter to the Romans, which many rightly take to be, at very least, a core summary of the apostle's understanding of the gospel, finds Paul insisting that judgment takes place “on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares” (Rom 2:16). Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul reminds us that Jesus “rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess 1:10). This Jesus will be “revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thess 1:7-10). We await “a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ”--and what this Savior saves us from (the context of Philippians 3:19-20 shows) is the destiny of destruction. “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Eph 2:3), for we gratified “the cravings of our sinful nature . . . following its desires and thoughts” (2:3)--but now we have been saved by grace through faith, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:8-10). This grace thus saves us both from sins and from their otherwise inevitable result, the wrath to come. Jesus himself is our peace (Eph 2; Acts 10:36). “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Rom 1:18). But God presented Christ as a propitiation in his blood” (3:25), and now “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (5:1-2).
Time and space fail to allow reflection on how the sacrifice of Christ in the Letter to the Hebrews is what alone enables us to escape the terror of those who fall into the hands of the living God, who is a consuming fire, or on how the Apocalypse presents the Lamb as the slaughtered sacrifice, even while warning of the danger of falling under the wrath of the Lamb.
This nexus of themes--God, sin, wrath, death, judgment--is what stands behind the simple words of, say, 1 Corinthians 15:3: as a matter of first importance, Paul tells us, “Christ died for our sins.” Parallel texts instantly leap to mind: “[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins, and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25). “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). The Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, to rescue us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Pet 3:18). Or, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:2, “By this gospel you are saved.” To be saved from our sins is to be saved not only from their chaining power but from their consequences--and the consequences are profoundly bound up with God's solemn sentence, with God's holy wrath. Once you see this, you cannot fail to see that whatever else the cross does, it must rightly set aside God's sentence, it must rightly set aside God's wrath, or it achieves nothing.
(2) Some popular slogans that have been deployed to belittle the doctrine of penal substitution betray painful misconceptions of what the Bible says about our Triune God. The best known of these appalling slogans, of course, is that penal substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse.” This conjures up a wretched picture of a vengeful God taking it out on his Son, who had no choice in the matter. Instead of invoking the Triune God of the Bible, this image implicitly pictures interactions between two separable Gods, the Father and the Son. But this is a painful caricature of what the Bible actually says. In fact, I do not know of any serious treatment of the doctrine of penal substitution, undertaken by orthodox believers, that does not carefully avoid falling into such traps.
Consider Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” This verse is coherent only if Christ himself is God. The cross is not Christ's idea alone, conjured up to satisfy his bad-tempered Father. The Triune God, our Creator and our Judge, could have, in perfect justice, consigned us all to the pit. Instead, the Father so loved us as to send his Son, himself God, to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. Moreover, the Bible speaks of this mission not only in its bearing on us lost sinners, but also in its reflection of inner-Trinitarian commitments: by this mission the Father determines that all will honor the Son, even as they honor the Father (see John 5:16-30): where does this insistence fit into crass language about cosmic child abuse?
(3) In recent years there has been a lot of chatter about various “models” of the atonement that have appeared in the history of the church: the penal substitution model, the Christus Victor model, the exemplary model, and so forth. The impression is frequently given that today's Christians are free to pick and choose among these so-called “models.” But for any Christian committed to the final authority of Scripture, this approach is methodologically flawed. It allows historical theology to trump Scripture. Surely the right question to ask is this: Which, if any, of these so-called “models” is exegetically warranted by the Bible itself? For instance, are there passages in which biblical writers insist that Christ in his death triumphed over the powers of darkness? Are there passages in which Christ's self-sacrifice becomes a moral model for his followers? Are there passages in which Christ's death is said to be a propitiation for our sins, i.e. a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God? If the answer is “Yes” to these three options--and there are still more options I have not mentioned here--then choosing only one of them is being unfaithful to Scripture, for it is too limiting. Christians are not at liberty to pick and choose which of the Bible's teachings are to be treasured.
(4) There is another question that must be asked when people talk about “models” of the atonement. Assuming we can show that several of them are warranted by Scripture itself, the question to ask is this: How, then, do these “models” cohere? Are they merely discrete pearls on a string? Or is there logic and intelligibility to them, established by Scripture itself?
One recent work that loves to emphasize the Christus Victor “model”--Christ by his death is victor over sin and death--somewhat begrudgingly concedes that penal substitution is found in a few texts, not least Romans 8:3. But this work expends no effort to show how these two views of the atonement should be integrated. In other words, the work in question denigrates penal substitution as a sort of minor voice, puffs the preferred “model” of Christus Victor, and attempts no integration. But I think it can be shown (though it would take a very long chapter to do it) that if one begins with the centrality of penal substitution, which is, as we have seen, grounded on a deep understanding of how sin is an offense against God, it is very easy to see how all the other so-called “models” of the atonement are related to it. The way Christ triumphs over sin and death is by becoming a curse for us, by satisfying the just demands of his heavenly Father, thereby silencing the accuser, and rising in triumph in resurrection splendor because sin has done its worst and been defeated by the One who bore its penalty. Moreover, in the light of such immeasurable love, there are inevitably exemplary moral commitments that Christ's followers must undertake. In other words, it is easy to show how various biblical emphases regarding the atonement cohere if one begins with penal substitution. It is very difficult to establish the coherence if one begins anywhere else.
(5) At least some of the current work on the atonement that is proving so scathing of penal substitution reflects discouraging ignorance of earlier theological study and reflection. Few interact any more with standard works by J. I. Packer, John Stott, and others--let alone classic works produced by earlier generations. But a new generation is rising, forcing readers to take note that historic Christian confessionalism will not roll over and play dead. I heartily commend the recent book by Steve Jeffery, Mike Ovey, and Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
A young woman in Ohio recently began serving a jail sentence for the death and cover-up of her newborn baby. After giving birth to a little boy the then fifteen year old girl stabbed the baby in the chest in order to make sure the baby was dead. As this young woman's crime has been reported through the national media people have responded with horror, sadness, and outrage that someone would do something like this to a little baby. Indeed this is part of an appropriate response for such an atrocity. However, had the young woman gone to a medical doctor, just a few short weeks before giving birth, and exercised her "choice" to have a highly trained professional kill the child she would have been seen as a woman who was free from the bonds of a once oppressive patriarchal society. What an utterly inconsistent response this is. Truly the apostle Paul's words ring true that humankind suppresses the truth by ungodliness. There is an internal moral compass that is offended by a woman stabbing her newborn baby. This same compass should be offended at a doctor poking holes in the head of a child with a pair of scissors. Let us not believe the lie that 21st century society is morally superior to the previous ages. We are still a people who think that we are morally superior to "others" and accurately able to pass judgment on "others" without condemning ourselves because the form of our sin takes a more "civilized form."
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
In his book "Interpreting the Pauline Epistles" Tom Schreiner points out that if our exegesis does not lead to a doxological response then our exegesis is incomplete. One of the best models in applying this principle is John Piper. A few years ago as he has preaching through Romans 9 his exegetical labors led to the penning of the following hymn. It is based on Romans 9:14-18 and is set to the tune of "O For a Thousand Tongues!"
Is there injustice with our God
When he decrees our ways?
No! This is but his righteousness
And root of all our praise.
Does he make mercy hang on this:
If we can will or run?
No! He has mercy on his own:
Before the world, it's done!
Did Pharaoh rise and make his name
Renown, and flaunt his mind?
No! He displayed his Maker’s fame,
And did what was designed.
O that we had a mind to grasp
The depths and riches of
The wisdom of the ways of God
And mysteries of love!
Now let no sin cause you to flee
Or make you suffer loss,
Our God is free, and Christ has died
Rejoice before his cross!
at 10:29 AM
At first glance the above title may cause most readers to wonder to themselves, "Why in the world would he post on this?" However, anyone who has ever sought to understand a New Testament passage in the original language should read the following article by Dr. Vern Poythress. In this article Poythress specifically focuses in on how the world views of tolerance and inclusiveness have impacted the New Testament lexicon known as BDAG.
at 9:32 AM
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Tonight in class we were discussing the history of the English Bible and the various versions that exist. I must say that I am very thankful to God for the wonderful translations that are available in the English language. In fact a few years ago I even jumped on the bandwagon and changed the Bible translation I use from the New American Standard Bible to the English Standard Version. However, I find myself torn regarding future English Bible translations. I personally benefit greatly from some of these translations and yet there are still so many people groups in the world who are in need of a Bible translation into their language for the first time. Perhaps my sense of feeling torn over this issue stems from the fact that I am not an expert in the Biblical Languages that is being asked to serve on these committees and therefore it is easy for me to pick on them for what they are not doing. Or perhaps my sense of feeling torn has to do with my own inadequate contribution to the cause of world missions. Or quite possibly my sense of feeling torn stems from the fact that millions of dollars are being poured into new English Bible translations by financial backers and Christian consumers while such a small percentage of this wealth is being given to fund translations for unreached peoples. I find it odd that I have probably ten different versions of the Bible on my shelf while some pastor friends of mine in India have one or two Bibles for their whole congregations.
at 10:34 PM
Monday, June 11, 2007
In the last few decades multiple pockets of Christendom in the western world have experienced a renewal with regards to corporate worship. In specific there has been a greater emphasis placed on the time of corporate singing. In many churches this has been a means that God has used to bring great refreshment to His people. In some churches corporate worship has become synonymous with congregational singing. However, the biblical portrait of corporate worship is much more robust than just singing. Dr. Gary Parrett has some helpful lectures that are available online for free and can be accessed by clicking here. He has also written an article that addresses some of the concerns that led him to give these lectures. This article can be read by clicking here.
at 1:18 PM
Saturday, June 9, 2007
I recently read that the television ratings for game 1 of the NBA finals were the lowest they ever been since moving to prime time. Here are 10 suggestions I have for making the finals more enjoyable to watch:
10) Call a traveling violation on Manu Ginobili
9) Make it a rule that every time a foul is called on Tim Duncan that he has use the P.A. system to tell the crowd that he indeed committed the foul
8) Have the Spurs play the Cavs 4 on 5, or better yet Duncan, Ginoboli, and Parker vs Any 5 Cavs
7) Mike Brown should coach the Spurs and Gregg Popovich should coach the Cavs.
6) In the last two minutes of each quarter Anderson Varejao and Manu Ginoboli should play 1 on 1. The first one to flop five times wins.
5) Tape delay the games and edit out half of all the missed shots
4) Make it a rule that only Jacque Vaughn's points count. I still think the Spurs would win the series, but it would at least make it interesting.
3) Reinstate Joey Crawford and allow him to be the only ref to call the games.
2) Play every game in Cleveland
1) Allow the Cavs to pick up Steve Nash for the rest of the finals
Friday, June 8, 2007
In 1977 the face of New Testament Studies began to take a drastic turn when E.P. Sanders published "Paul and Palestinian Judaism." Among other things Sanders suggested that first century Judaism had been misunderstood by Luther and the other Reformers and that this misunderstanding had colored all subsequent scholarship. Sanders suggested that the Judaism of the first century was one of "grace" and not one of "works righteousness" as Luther had understood. One prominent scholar who initially adopted a similar understanding, although not identical, was Francis Watson. Watson has sense changed his position and written a paper critiquing the New Perspective. Watson's paper can be read by clicking here.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
"The good and the just...have to crucify the one who devises an alternative virtue because they already possess the knowledge of the good; they have to be hypocrites because, seeing themselves as good, they must impersonate the absence of evil. Like poisonous flies, 'they sting' and they do so 'in all innocence.' Exclusion can be as much a sin of a 'good conscience' as it is of an 'evil heart.'" --Miroslav Volf
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
One of the catch phrases in certain circles of Christendom these days is "God-centered." This is a good phrase and when properly understood communicates a marvelous truth. However, it appears that many people have gravitated to using this phrase to communicate "I am a serious Christian" without giving much thought to the radical implications of what it means to be "God-centered." One of the people who God has used to challenge my own understanding of what it means to be God-centered is John Piper. The following quote by Piper presses home the implications of what it means to be "God-centered" in our understanding of heaven:
"The critical question for our generation—and for every generation-is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?"
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Several years ago I remember listening to this John Piper sermon and being challenged to rethink my position on the doctrine of particular redemption. For those of you who would rather read the sermon I have include the manuscript below:
For Whom Did Jesus Taste Death?
But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
For Those He Came to Save
Yesterday I marched for Jesus along with thousands of others in the Twin Cities and with millions of others around the world. As I turned from Nicollet Mall onto Sixth Street we were singing the second stanza of "Crown Him with Many Crowns." I am probably the only one who was thinking at that moment of this morning's message. The title of the message this morning is, "For Whom Did Jesus Taste Death?" The second verse of "Crown Him with Many Crowns" goes like this:
Crown Him the Lord of life,
Who triumphed o'er the grave.
Who rose victorious in the strife
For those He came to save.
His glories now we sing,
Who died and rose on high.
Who died eternal life to bring,
And lives that death may die.
He triumphed over the grave and rose victorious in the strife for those he came to save. "For those he came to save." These words seem to signal that the writer of this hymn believes that Christ had a design to really save a particular group of people by his death. He triumphed over the grave for those he came to save. It sounds like there are some he came to save, and that for these the grave is defeated and eternal life is given.
So my question this morning is this: "For whom did Jesus taste death?" Ask 100 evangelical Christians in America that question and 95 will probably say, "Everybody." And there is something healthy about that answer—and something unhealthy. What's healthy about it is that it is not cliquish or elitist or sectarian. It has an eye on the world. It wants others to enjoy the forgiveness of sins that believers enjoy. It is not narrow and confined in its affections.
It tries to express the biblical truth that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). It is healthy and right to believe that everyone who has faith—no matter what race or education or intelligence or social class or former religion—everyone who puts faith in Jesus Christ is justified and accepted with God on the basis of Jesus' shed blood. It's healthy and right to believe that no one can say, "I really want to be saved by believing Jesus, but I can't be because he did not die for me." No one can say that. There is no one who truly believes for whom Jesus did not taste death.
There are lots of reasons why this answer (that Jesus tasted death for everyone) is a sign of spiritual health. One of the most obvious reasons is right here in our text, Hebrews 2:9:
But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.
The answer that 95% of evangelicals would give is a healthy sign of desire to say what the Bible says.
But to say what the Bible says and to mean what the Bible means are not necessarily the same thing. Which is why I said that there is something unhealthy about answering the question, "For whom did Jesus taste death?" by simply saying "everybody." What's unhealthy about it is not, first, that it's wrong. It might not be wrong. It depends on what you mean by saying that. What's unhealthy is that it stops short of asking what Jesus really accomplished when he died. It assumes that we all know what he accomplished and that this he accomplished for everybody in the same way. That is not healthy, because it is not true. My guess is that most of those 95% who say Jesus died for everybody would have a hard time explaining just what it is that the death of Jesus really, actually accomplished for everybody—especially what it accomplished for those who refuse to believe and go to hell.
Then Why Is Not Everyone Saved?
In other words, it's unhealthy to say that Jesus tasted death for everyone and not to know what Jesus really accomplished by dying. Suppose you say to me, "I believe that Jesus died for everyone," and I respond, "Then why is not everyone saved?" Your answer probably would be, "Because you have to receive the gift of salvation; you have to believe in Christ in order for his death to count for you." I agree, but then I say, "So you believe that Christ died for people who reject him and go to hell in the same way that he died for those who accept him and go to heaven?" You say, "Yes, the difference is the faith of those who go to heaven. Faith connects you with the benefits of the death of Jesus."
There are several problems here. I will only mention one. And I dwell on this because, if this is what you believe, then you are missing out on the depths of covenant love that God has for you in Christ by understanding it to be the same as the love he has for those who reject him. And you are, in one serious way, "neglecting your great salvation," which, we saw in Hebrews 2:3, we must not do. There is a greatness about being loved with Calvary love that you will never know if you believe that those in hell were loved and died-for the same way you were.
It would be as though a wife insisted that her husband loved and sacrificed for her no differently than he loves and sacrifices for all the women in the world. But in fact Paul, the apostle, says in Ephesians 5:25–27:
Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
That's what we mean when we say he died for the church, his bride. In other words there is a precious and unfathomable covenant love between Christ and his bride that moved him to die for her. The death of Jesus is for the bride of Christ in a different way than it is for those who perish.
Here's the problem with saying Christ died for all the same way he died for his bride. If Christ died for the sins of those who are finally lost, the same way he died for the sins of those who are finally saved, then what are the lost being punished for? Were their sins covered and canceled by the blood of Jesus or not? We Christians say, "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). And we mean that his death paid the debt those sins created. His death removed the wrath of God from me. His death lifted the curse of the law from me. His death purchased heaven for me. It really accomplished those things!
But what would it mean to say of an unbeliever in hell that Christ died for his sins? Would we mean that the debt for his sins was paid? If so, why is he paying again in hell? Would we mean that the wrath of God was removed? If so, why is the wrath of God being poured out on him in punishment for sins? Would we mean that the curse of the law was lifted? If so, why is he bearing his curse in the lake of fire?
One possible answer is this: one might say that the only reason people go to hell is because of the sin of rejecting Jesus, not because of all the other sins of their life. But that is not true. The Bible teaches that the wrath of God is coming on the world, not just because of its rejection of Jesus, but because of its many sins that are not forgiven. For example, in Colossians 3:5–6, Paul refers to "immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed," and then says, "On account of these things the wrath of God will come." So people who reject Jesus really will be punished for their specific sins, not just for rejecting Jesus.
In What Sense Did Jesus Taste Death for a Person in Hell?
So, we go back to the problem: in what sense did Christ taste death for their sins? If they are still guilty for their sins and still suffer punishment for their sins, what happened on the cross for their sins? Perhaps someone would use an analogy. You might say, Christ purchased their ticket to heaven, and offered it to them freely, but they refused to take it, and that is why they went to hell. And you would be partly right: Christ does offer his forgiveness freely to all, and any who receives it as the treasure it is will be saved by the death of Jesus. But the problem with the analogy is that the purchase of the ticket to heaven is, in reality, the canceling of sins. But what we have seen is that those who refuse the ticket are punished for their sins, not just for refusing the ticket. And so what meaning does it have to say that their sins were canceled? Their sins are going to bring them to destruction and keep them from heaven; so their sins were not really canceled in the cross, and therefore the ticket was not purchased.
The ticket for heaven which Jesus obtained for me by his blood is the wiping out of all my sins, covering them, bearing them in his own body, so that they can never bring me to ruin—can never be brought up against me again—never. That's what happened when he died for me. Hebrews 10:14 says, "By one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Perfected before God for all time, by the offering his life! That's what it means that he died for me. Hebrews 9:28 says, "Christ also [was] offered once to bear the sins of many." He bore my sins. He really bore them (See Isaiah 53:4–6.) He really suffered for them. They cannot and they will not fall on my head in judgment.
If you say to me, then, that at the cross Christ only accomplished for me what he accomplished for those who will suffer hell for their sins, then you strip the death of Jesus of its actual effective accomplishment on my behalf, and leave me with what?—an atonement that has lost its precious assuring power that my sins were really covered and the curse was really lifted and the wrath of God was really removed. That's a high price to pay in order to say that Christ tasted death for everyone in the same way.
I don't think that the Bible commands us or, in fact, lets us say that Christ died for everybody in the same way. And the context of Hebrews 2:9 is a good place to show that the death of Christ had a special design or aim for God's chosen people that it did not have for others.
What Does "Everyone" Mean?
At the end of verse 9 the writer says, "By the grace of God [Christ] tasted death for everyone." The question here is whether "everyone" refers to every human without distinction, or whether it refers to everyone within a certain group. As when I say at staff lunch, "Is everyone present?" I don't mean everyone in the world. I mean everyone in the group I have in mind. What is the group that the writer has in mind: all of humanity without any distinction, or some other group?
Let's let him answer as we trace his thought in the next verses. Verse 10 is the support for verse 9: Christ tasted death for everyone "for it was fitting for him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings." In other words, immediately after saying that by the grace of God Christ tasted death for everyone, the writer explains that God's design in this suffering of Christ was to "bring many sons to glory." So verses 9 and 10 go together like this: Christ tasted death for everyone, because it seemed fitting to God that the way to lead his children to glory was through the suffering and death of Christ.
This means that the "everyone" of verse 9 probably refers to every one of the sons being led to glory in verse 10. In other words the design of God—the aim and purpose of God—in sending Christ to die was particularly to lead his children from sin and death and hell to glory. He had a special eye to his own elect children. It's exactly what the gospel of John says in 11:52—that Jesus would die to "gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad." These "children of God" that Christ died to gather are the "sons" that God is leading to glory through the death of Christ in Hebrews 2:10.
You can see this in the next verses too. Verses 11 and 12:
For both He who sanctifies [i.e., Christ] and those who are sanctified [the sons he is leading to glory] are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying [in Psalm 22:22], "I WILL PROCLAIM THY NAME TO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING THY PRAISE."
In other words the sons that God is leading to glory through the death of Christ are now called Christ's brothers. It was for every one of these that Christ tasted death.
Verse 13 goes on now to call them, not only brothers, but in another sense children of Christ:
And again, "I WILL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM" [Christ's own confession of faith in his Father along with his brothers]. And again, "BEHOLD, I AND THE CHILDREN WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN ME."
Notice, the sons that are being led to glory through the death of Christ are now called children that God has given to Christ. They don't just become children by choosing Christ. God sets his favor on them and brings them to Christ—gives them to Christ. And for every one of these he tastes death and leads them to glory. This is exactly the way Jesus spoke of his own disciples in the prayer of John 17:6: "I manifested Thy name to the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world; Thine they were, and Thou gavest them to Me." So the picture we have is a chosen people that the Father freely and graciously gives to the Son as his children.
Then notice how verses 14–15 connect the aim of Christ's incarnation and death with this chosen group of children:
Since then the children share in flesh and blood [in other words, since those whom the Father gave to the Son have a human nature], He Himself likewise also partook of the same [human nature], that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives [namely, every one of those children and brothers that God had given him to lead to glory by his death].
So here the reason given for the incarnation and the death of Jesus (in verse 14) is that the "children" share in flesh and blood. That's the reason Christ took on flesh and blood. And the "children," according to verse 13, are not humans in general, but children God has given to Jesus. And so the whole design and aim of the incarnation and death of Jesus was to lead the sons, the brothers, the children, whom God gave to Jesus, to glory.
Your Belief Was Purchased by the Death of Christ
Now I will stop here in our text, even though we could keep right on going through the rest of this chapter showing that the aim of God in the sending and death of Jesus was to accomplish something definite for his brothers, his children, those whom God has given him out of the world. But I will stop and make a closing application.
I am not the least bit interested in withholding the infinite value of the death of Jesus from anyone. Let it be known and heard very clearly: God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes on him—I say it again: whoever believes in him—should not perish but have eternal life. Christ died so that whoever (in this room this morning) believes might not perish but live.
And when you believe as you ought to believe, you will discover that your belief—like all other spiritual blessings—was purchased by the death of Christ. The sin of unbelief was covered by the blood in your case, and therefore the power of God's mercy was released through the cross to subdue your rebellion and bring you to the Son. You did not make the cross effective in your life by faith. The cross became effective in your life by purchasing your faith.
So glory in this, Christian. Glory that your sins really were covered when Jesus tasted death for you. Glory that your guilt really was removed when Jesus tasted death for you. Glory that the curse of the law really was lifted and that the wrath of God really was removed, and that the precious faith that unites you to all this treasure in Christ was a gift purchased by the blood of Christ.
Christ tasted death for everyone who has faith. Because the faith of everyone who believes was purchased by the death of Christ.
For further reflection see:
1 Timothy 4:10
John 10:15; 11:52; 17:6, 9, 19
Revelation 1:5; 3:9; 5:9
1 John 2:2 (compare John 11:52)
2 Peter 2:1
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