Sacrifice Of Christ

Whenever we approach a subject that concerns the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8), we seek to reflect the awe expressed by the apostle Paul: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchableare his judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33) Although the subject of the atonement is the loftiest and noblest that the human mind can ponder, there is also no single subject that has caused more controversy in the history of Christianity than that which concerns the nature and sacrifice of Christ. The subject of the atonement must not be approached as if it lends itself to mechanical dissection. Never must the gracious purpose of our Father in working out redemption for our fallen race be lost sight of. When the beauty and grandeur of the atonement is marred by contention and debate, this subject, which has the capacity to inspire us in our service to our Father, may be robbed of its meaning and healing power.

As we survey the long history of contention over Christ's sacrifice, it is clear that much of the argument concerns finding an appropriate balance. The center of balance concerns the meeting ground between the divine side of our Lord and his human side. Without question a man (2 Timothy 2:5; Romans 1:3), our Lord was also the only begotten Son of God (Romans 1:4; 1 John 4:9). This balance is not to be taken lightly. Of all the doctrines reproved in the New Testament Scripture, none is more strongly repudiated than that teaching which confesses not that the Lord Jesus is come in the flesh (2 John 7). In addition to intellectually denying the sacrificial work of Christ in this manner (2 Peter 2:1), the Scriptures make reference to the possibility of practically denying his atoning work by living in a manner unworthy of it. (Hebrews 6:6; 10:29)


No one can read the New Testament Scriptures without being struck by the frequency of reference to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ having been provided in the wisdom and mercy of God for our sake.

  1. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died FOR US. Romans 5:8
  2. He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him Up FOR US all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Romans 8:32
  3. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed FOR US: 1 Corinthians 5:7
  4. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 1 Corinthians 15:3
  5. For he hath made himto be sin FOR US who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
  6. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself FOR ME. Galatians 2:20
  7. And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself FOR US an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. Ephesians 5:2
  8. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,Who died FOR US that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. 1 Thessalonians 5:9,10
  9. Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;Who gave himself FOR US, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Titus 2:13,14
  10. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated FOR US through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; Hebrews 10:19,20
  11. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.1 Peter 3:18
  12. Hereby perceive we the loveof God, because he laid down his life FOR US: and we ought to lay downour lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16

One of the great truths of Scripture, which is abundantly expressed in the foregoing testimonies, is that the sacrifice of Christ is an intensely personal matter. Each of us needs the sacrifice of Christ and without the covering for sin which it provides, we would be nothing. As the Psalmist asked, If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? (Psalm 130:3) The foregoing references are all drawn from the epistles, which were written to those who believed and had been baptized into Christ. The sacrifice of Christ is also an exclusive thing: those who are not related to it, by the means God has provided, shall not receive the benefits of deliverance from death which it provides.

Was it for us only?

We once had a conversation with a brother who showed a list of verses similar to the foregoing and then remarked that there was nothing there about the Lord offering for himself. In his mind, the whole emphasis of Scripture was on the Lord offering for us, and therefore there was no need to teach about the Lord offering for himself. If you were the one in this conversation, how would you respond to the scriptural evidence brought forth by the brother? While it is true that none of the foregoing verses makes reference to the Lord offering for himself, it is also true that none of them excludes it. We believe that when one reflects on the subject, one comes to the conclusion that these verses do not exclude the Lord's offering for himself, they implicitly require it and teach it. To show this point, it is helpful to consider what is revealed in the epistle to the Hebrews.

What the angels could not do:

In a conversation with a brother with a list of "offering for us" verses, it might be a good starting point to ask, "Why could one of the angels not have stepped forward and served as the redeemer for our fallen race?" There is no question that much of the inspired exposition in the first and second chapters of Hebrews was given to show why the angels could not fulfill this role. It is therefore an important body of scripture to consider in seeking understanding about the relationship of our Lord to his own sacrifice.

The issue is whether the Lord is himself included in the "for us" for which his offering was made or whether he is excluded from it and outside of it: in short, was he a partaker of the same Adamic problem of sin and death as those he came to redeem or was he outside of and untouched by their problem? Do we not take the confession that the Lord has come in the flesh to mean that he was a full partaker of the same Adamic problem, for it is that flesh which is stricken with the problem of sin and death?

This relationship of Christ to the Adamic problem is directly testified to in the epistle to the Hebrews: Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14, 15) In this testimony, the writer uses threefold emphasis to show that our Lord was himself (a) also (b) likewise partaker of (c) the same. It is important to read the complete thought, which requires consideration also of the 15th verse, because it explains why it was essential that our Lord was himself also likewise partaker of the same - in order to be the deliverer from the bondage of death.

This is consistent with the message of the entire first and second chapters of Hebrews in which the inspired writer shows why it was not possible for an angel to have been the redeemer. If our Lord had been in Heaven with his Father before his coming to earth as a babe in Bethlehem's manger, the entire argument of the first portion of the epistle to the Hebrews breaks down, for in that case his position would have been no different from any of the angels who dwell on high. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angles for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9). As a man, he was himself part of the "every man" for whom it was necessary that he experience the suffering of death.

In this respect, it is important to note that there is a verse in the epistle to the Hebrews that some mistakenly add to the list of verses showing that our Lord's offering was for us. The verse is Hebrews 9:12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemptionfor us. A close look at the text of Scripture will show that the words "for us" in this passage are in italics, meaning that there are no words in the original corresponding to them. This is an instance where the translators added words that are contrary to the sense of the passage. Whereas in the English language, we are familiar with the grammatical terms of active and passive voices, in the ancient Greek language there was also a third voice called the middle voice. This voice was used for an action done to oneself. It is this middle voice that is used in the original Greek text for Hebrews 9:12. Thus, the addition of the words "for us" changes the sense from the original, intended meaning.[1]

Through the offering of his own blood, our Lord obtained eternal redemption first for himself. This conclusion is consistent with the entire argument of the epistle to the Hebrews, that our Lord was the forerunner (Hebrews 6:20), the one to lead and to show the way to life (Hebrews 2:10, 11). If our Lord had been outside of the scope of the problem of those he came to redeem, his own redemption could not have served as a meaningful demonstration and example for those to follow. That is one reason why this is such an important point of understanding. The meaning of Christ's sacrifice as an assurance to all men of the accomplishment of God's redemptive plan is negated if his relationship to the problem of sin and death was fundamentally different than our own (Revelation 3:21).

The type of the High Priest:

The book of Hebrews expounds on certain of the types of the Law of Moses and how they were a shadow of greater things to come in Christ. One of these types concerns the role of the high priest in offering gifts and sacrifices on the day of atonement: For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. (Hebrews 5:1-3)

There is no question that the writer to the Hebrew fully applies this type to our Lord both in the fifth and ninth chapter (Hebrews 9:7). Six times in the description in Leviticus 16 of the duties of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, the law emphasizes that he must offer "for himself" (Leviticus 16:6,11,17). This is the plainest and most direct testimony in all of Scripture that our Lord needed "so also for himself" to offer for sins. Had this type not had application to the Lord, would the inspired writer not have inserted a parenthetical explanation to the effect that "Now we know brethren, that our Lord is not like the high priests under the law in this respect?" But no such disclaimer is contained in the inspired record and therefore it is not right for man to frame one.

Recognizing, therefore, the applicability of the type of the high priest on the Day of Atonement to our Lord, the question arises, what were the sins for which it was necessary that he offer for himself? The first part of the answer must emphasize that our Lord had no personal sins whatsoever of his own. He was sinless as concerns voluntary, personal transgression. His moral perfection was essential for his sacrifice to be acceptable to his Father. Is there a form of sin other than voluntary, personal transgression - that is, when the human will is engaged to deliberately transgress the laws of God according to the process described in James 1:14? Scripturally, the answer to this question is "yes." A good illustration of this point is provided by Hebrews 9:28: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. The inference is that at his first coming our Lord was not "without sin." This can only mean that his sin nature is described in this testimony as the sin at his first appearing. This is a fundamental principle of the Scriptures; human nature is a defiled thing in need of atonement, irrespective of whether or not that nature has expressed itself by voluntary, personal transgression.

Cursed is the ground for thy sake.

In our understanding, one of the clearest ways to appreciate this point is to consider what was cursed by God in Genesis 3:17: Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. The Hebrew word for ground or earth is adamah, the very substance of which Adam was made: And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). As if to emphasize the connection, the judgment on Adam concluded with these words: In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19) In cursing the ground, God cursed human nature, and all who bear that nature come under this curse. Our Lord was a bearer of the nature so he also came under the curse that leads to death. [2]

Now concerning this matter of being cursed as a son of Adam, the apostle Paul speaks of another curse under which our Lord came, as one who was made under the Law of Moses. (Galatians 4:4). Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Galatians 3:13). This was a case of a man involuntarily coming under the curse of the law by the circumstances in which others ordained him to die. But the apostle Paul shows that this was absolutely necessary: for Christ to redeem others from the curse of the Law, he had to first come under it himself. If this principle was true in respect of the Law of Moses, must it not also be true of the greater curse of sin and death that was inherited from Adam?

In one of the verses in the list previously cited concerning the offering of the Lord for our sake, it is written that, "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures." This latter phrase - according to the Scriptures - is important because it indicates that the offering of Christ was foretold and expounded also in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. We have previously considered two places in the Old Testament, expounded upon in the New, which prefigured the necessity of our Lord offering for himself. One was the offering of the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and the other was the curse of the Law that came on those who met death by hanging on a tree. There is a third reference that is important to cite also because it is perhaps the most compelling of all.

The right to redeem oneself:

Under the Law of Moses, there were two applications of the law of redemption. One concerned its application to land and the other to men, specifically, in relation to their position as servants. An Israelite who was overtaken with poverty could be sold into the service of another Israelite (Leviticus 25:39), not as a bondman but as a hired servant until the year of jubilee, when he would be granted his liberty. The Law provided for the redemption of the servant from his servitude: After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself (Leviticus 25:48, 49).

That the Law provided that a servant could redeem himself "if he be able" shows the concept that our Lord obtained eternal redemption for himself, as taught in Hebrews 9:12, is thoroughly scriptural and rooted in the types of the Old Testament. The law of redemption also shows that redemption was reserved to those who were "one of his brethren, nigh of kin unto him of his family." This type of redemption applies to our Lord also because his redeeming sacrifice was made to obtain the release from bondage of those who are related to him as brethren, not according to the flesh, but according to the adoption of the Spirit.


The atonement is a vast and intricate subject that spans the entire Scriptures and our few words can only begin to elaborate on it. It is a subject on which the "whole counsel of God" as revealed in the Scriptures must be brought to bear. These few words have been written in the hope that they might set out some of the basic principles that are important and fundamental to a scripturally balanced understanding of the subject, which can provide a foundation upon which further study can be built.

[1] The words "for us" are omitted from Young's Literal Translation, the Diaglott and NIV, for example. Many New Testament Greek grammar sources explain the middle voice as "the subject of the verb participates in the results of the action." An example is Matthew 27:5.

[2] In our understanding of this curse, just as the natural ground brings forth thorns and thistles to thwart the labours of man to provide fruit, so the soils of our carnal minds naturally bring forth the thoughts of the flesh to thwart the labours of the spiritual man to bring forth fruit unto God, as elaborated in Romans 7.