Mike Riccardi – Romans 8 and the Extent of the Atonement: Help from John Murray

John-Murray-Portrait-290x300 The extent of the atonement continues to be one of those doctrinal discussions that tends to evoke more heat than light. I’ve always found it to be a shame that there is such widespread disagreement in the body of Christ concerning an aspect of theology that is so central to the Gospel itself: the atonement. While differences on the extent of the atonement may be less central than differences on the nature of the atonement, the question, “For whom did Christ atone?” is nevertheless a question that needs to be answered with biblical conviction.

Among the many texts that do get mentioned in these discussions, one text that I’ve very rarely seen discussed in personal conversation is Romans 8:28-39. And yet this text has very significant implications with respect to the particularity or universality of Christ’s redemption. Because, it seems, Romans 8 tends to get lost in the shuffle of exegetical and theological debate related to the L of TULIP, I thought I would reproduce a selection from John Murray’s classic, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, in which he demonstrates the role that Romans 8 plays in this discussion.

He asks the question, “Is there not also more direct evidence provided by the Scripture to show the definite or limited extent of the atonement?” and answers, “There are indeed many biblical arguments.” The first he addresses is Romans 8:31–39.

There is no question but that on two occasions in this passage, explicit reference is made to the death of Christ—“he that spared not his own Son but delivered him up for us all” (ver. 32) and “Christ Jesus is the one who died, yea rather is raised up” (ver. 34). Hence, any indication given in this passage respecting extent would be pertinent to the question of the extent of the atonement.

Verses 31–32: The “us” is conditioned by vv. 28–30

In verse 31 Paul asks the question: “What shall we then say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” We are compelled to ask the question: of whom is Paul speaking? In other words, what is the denotation of the expressions “for us” and “against us”?

The answer is that the denotation cannot be other than that provided by the preceding context, namely, those spoken of in verses 28–30. It would be impossible to universalize the denotation of verse 31 if we are to think biblically, and it would be exegetically monstrous to break the continuity of Paul’s thought and extend the reference of verse 31 beyond the scope of those spoken of in verse 30. This means therefore that the denotation in view in the words “for us” and “against us” in verse 31 is restricted, and restricted in terms of verse 30.

When we proceed to verse 32 we find that Paul again uses this expression “for us” and adds the word “all”—“he that spared not his own Son but delivered Him up for us all.” Here he is dealing expressly with those on whose behalf the Father delivered up the Son. And the question is: what is the scope of the expression, “for us all”?

It would be absurd to insist that the presence of the word “all” has the effect of universalizing the scope. The “all” is not broader than the “us.” Paul is saying that the action of the Father in view was on behalf of “all of us” and the question is simply the scope of the “us.”

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Michael S. Horton – Saved From God

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Undoubtedly the most familiar words in the English Bible, John 3:16 rightly holds the highest place in the Christian memory. For in one succinct sentence, it announces the center of biblical revelation.

First, it assures us that God was loving toward his fallen creatures even before the actual event of the Crucifixion, keeping us from the mistake (too often committed) of assuming that the Cross persuaded God to be merciful. Rather, it was because of his eternally merciful nature that he found a way to reconcile us without alienating himself. God’s love comes before the Cross, eternally prior to it, as he established a covenant of redemption with Christ as the Mediator before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4-11; Jn 6:39; 1 Pt 1:20). Second, it reminds us that God the Father is not the “bad guy” in the drama who would like to condemn, with the Son stepping in to persuade him of the loving path. What could be clearer throughout John’s Gospel than that the Father sent the Son on this loving mission? Too often, in our desire to defend the biblical doctrine of the substitutionary atonement, we risk envisioning the Father as the one who reluctantly saves sinners, as if he has to save them, after all, because the Son has offered the perfect sacrifice. Few actually state it in such stark terms, but often this is the message that people have heard as we explain the orthodox doctrine. The Son, not the Father, was the self-giving victim, but the Father was in Christ when his Son bore his wrath. Instead of confusing or separating the divine persons, let us simply wonder at the foot of the Cross at how God the Father, even in executing his just wrath, could be filled with such anguish and loathing that he would turn his eyes from his own Son (Mk 15:33-34).

But there is still more to this verse: God gave his only-begotten Son. As John’s Gospel declared at the beginning, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…No one has seen God but God the One and Only.” Not only did God send a Savior, but the Savior he sent was himself God. Furthermore, he was and remains God’s “only-begotten Son.” There are no incarnations before or after the virginal conception of Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, there is no other way to the Father but through this Son. He is not an idea or a principle, but a person. Redemption cannot come through other sons or daughters, through universal truths of human reason, experience, or morality that are somehow present in all major religions. There is only one God and one “only-begotten Son” who is capable of saving. All who are named God’s children derive their sonship by adoption, but this Son is “eternally-begotten before all worlds.” As the eleventh-century theologian Anselm expressed it, our Savior had to be God in order to pay an infinite debt and conquer sin and death. But he had to be Man, since it was humanity, after all, that had merited divine wrath through original and personal sin. So already we see that a high view of the work of Christ requires and rests upon a high view of the person of Christ.

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Ya’acov Natan Lawrence – A Study of Genesis 22 & The Three Trumpets (Shofarot)

In Jewish thought, Scripture speaks of three trumpets blasts (or shofar blasts): the first, last and the final or great
trumpet (or shofar). The first shofar sounded on Shavuot (Pentecost) at Mount Sinai (Exod 19:19), the last Shofar
blast would occur on Yom Teruah (the Day of Shofar Blasting) and the final or great shofar blast announcing
the Jubilee Year would occur on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, Lev 25:9).

The first and last shofar blasts relate to the two horns of the ram caught in the thicket on Mount Moriah
(Gen 22:13). The ram is a prophetic shadow-picture of Yeshua who would become the Lamb whose sacrifice would
pay to redeem sinful man. The thicket represents the human sinfulness (Matt 13:22). Humanity is entangled in
the thicket of sin and unable to get free. Yeshua the Messiah, is the Lamb (Ram) slain from the foundation of the
world (Rev 13:8), who, while hanging on the cross, wore a crown of thorns.

The “ram caught in the thicket” in Genesis 22 is a prophetic picture of Yeshua carrying the sins of humanity
while dying on the cross. Scripture says that the sins of man were to be laid upon the Messiah (Isa 53:6). Furthermore,
in Matthew 13, in Yeshua’s Parable of the Sower, we see that some of the seed was cast into the thorns,
which Yeshua explained represents the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches that choke out the Word
of YHVH. These references to thorns and thicket are a picture of sin. The crown of thorns Yeshua wore while on
the cross is a picture men’s sins.

Scripture says that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). In Genesis 22, Isaac was about to die, but the ram
caught in the thicket that YHVH provided was substituted for Isaac. The ram that “saved” Isaac was a picture of
Yeshua whose name means “salvation.”

The horns of the ram are prophetically symbolic, as well. In Hebraic thought, the left horn, corresponding
to the right hand of YHVH, signifies mercy and grace. Furthermore, the left horn of the redemptive ram signifies
the purpose of the first coming of Messiah Yeshua as the Suffering Savior (or Messiah Son of Yoseph). At his first
coming, Yeshua brought mercy and grace—not quenching a smoking flax or breaking a bruised reed—and like a
meek and quiet lamb he was led to the slaughter (Isa 53:7; 42:3; Matt 12:20). The right horn of the ram represents
judgment. In Hebraic thought, Elohim’s right hand is the hand of power, might and judgment. Thus, this horn
represents the second coming of Messiah, who currently is seated at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32–33).
At his second coming, Yeshua will come to the earth in power as King of kings to judge the living and the dead,
and to rule the earth with a rod of iron for a thousand years.

That is why the first shofar blast (representing the left horn of the ram) is sounded on Shavuot (Pentecost),
for it represents YHVH’s grace and mercy upon his people from Abraham until the second coming
of the Messiah.

This period represents the time YHVH has given people to repent of their sin and return to him.
The summer months from Shavuot (Pentecost) in the spring to Yom Teruah (the Day of Shofar Blowing) in
the fall speaks prophetically of the time period between Yeshua’s first and second coming.

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Brent McGuire – Christ’s Impossible Prayer in Gethsemane

The conventional account-at least the one this writer encounters most often-is that in Gethsemane Jesus demonstrates his humanity, by shrinking (as any of us would) from the painful death ahead of him. Jesus is deeply distressed by the prospect not only of dying but of being killed in a cruel and violent manner. He knows what is about to happen and he is afraid.

What leads people to think this way of Gethsemane? Perhaps graphic Good Friday sermons and dramatizations such as The Passion of the Christ are to blame-visual and rhetorical portrayals of the brutal scourging, the pounding of the nails, and the thrusting in of the spear. Though true and faithful to the biblical record and to what we know of ancient Roman crucifixion, such an emphasis on the physicality of the cross often serves to obscure the full significance of Jesus’ suffering and death. After all, what is true physically about Jesus’ crucifixion may also be said of the crucifixions that occurred left and right of him. And while we do not know what anguish of soul the two malefactors experienced beforehand, we know of many martyrs-Christian and otherwise-who faced their violent end with little or no spiritual torment.

Eleazar, a Jewish scribe martyred in the second century b.c., “welcomed death with honor” and “went to the rack of his own accord” (2 Macc. 6:19). The Roman philosopher Seneca, in the moments leading up to his suicide, was unmoved, showing no signs of fear or sadness (Tacitus, Annals XV.61-2). St. Peter was so bold as to insist he be crucified upside down. The early Christian bishop Polycarp received his death sentence with a courage and joy that amazed his executioner (Eusebius, Church History IV.25). To say Jesus’ soul is “overwhelmed to the point of death” because he fears being crucified is to regard him as of weaker stuff than these others.

No, Jesus’ agony is over something other than the prospect of physical suffering and death. We learn what that is from the words he prays. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, in fact, gives us the full meaning of what he is about to do. And the Father’s answer, in turn, reveals that the world could be saved in no other way.

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