The Atonement

This graphic reminder of the cross and Paul’s interpretation of it has the problem that Jesus presented an altogether different picture of a freely and infinitely (>70×7) forgiving God: ‘forgiveness’ of a debt fully paid is no forgiveness at all.  Jesus did not know Paul’s blood-thirsty sacrifice-seeking unforgiving deity, inspiring Christendom to condemn and slaughter millions. Mahatma Ghandi was a better student of Jesus and a much better interpreter of the meaning and power of the cross.

The Atonement

When Jesus presented Himself before the righteous Judge of the universe as the ransom for sin and sinners, Divine justice demanded the full penalty be paid. Thus, the full force of divine wrath was poured out upon Him without pity or favour. God withdrew His protection and the unrestrained forces of evil were unleashed against  Him. For this reason, Jesus suffered the most dreadful, humiliating and excruciating punishment that any human being ever endured – both in regard to physical pain and mental anguish.

According to an eye witness report (the disciple John), Jesus was arrested and dragged before a Jewish court (Sanhedrin), where He was tried by the High Priest, condemned unjustly for blasphemy (claiming to be the Son of God), spat on, blindfolded, taunted and mercilessly punched, beaten and bound.

He was then turned over to be tried by the Romans where He was flogged, ordered to be crucified, left to the mercy of cruel soldiers, blind-folded, repeatedly slapped across the face, tortured, dressed in mock royal robes, handed a staff and capped with a woven crown of thorns – “Hail, King of the Jews” they mocked.  He was again and again punched, struck on the head, spat on, beaten and lashed mercilessly with the feared Roman scourge designed to inflict maximum physical pain and damage. In the words of Alexander Metherell M.D, this weapon, laced with bone and metal, would rip the flesh to the very muscles, sinews and bones and cause extreme loss of blood, shock, lowering of blood pressure and intense thirst. He was so badly beaten, bloodied and bruised He was scarcely recognisable as a human being (Isiah 52:14). Then, in this emaciated and weakened state, He was made to carry the heavy cross upon which He would be crucified.  He collapsed under its weight.  A stranger passing by was forced to carry it for Him.

He was lead to Calvary, the place of execution, where He was nailed to the cross through hands and feet, tearing flesh, splintering bones and severing nerves; all with excruciating agony (Psalms 22:16). His joints were dislocated with intense pain as the cross was pitilessly thrust into the ground. (Psalms 22:14). As He hung there in agony, despised and rejected by His fellowman and disowned and deserted by his closest friends, He was again mocked, derided and left to suffer and die in agony. He looked for sympathy and comforters but there was none (Psalms 69:20).  Soldiers even divided and cast lots for his clothes (Psalms 22:18).

Despite His intense suffering at the hands of evil men, Jesus looked down from the cross in love and compassion on His persecutors and prayed to His Heavenly Father for their forgiveness – “forgive them”, He prayed, “for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24). In their ignorance and arrogance, ‘they’, meaning both Jews and Romans or Gentiles (which encapsulates the sinful world in general) were crucifying the Messiah, the very One God had appointed to redeem the world from the curse of sin, suffering and death and regain for it the eternal life it had lost. The fact is, as sinners, we all stand guilty of Jesus death.

Feeling abandoned even by His Heavenly Father, Jesus cried out in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”? However, despite all His intense suffering, pain and trauma, His faith and trust in God never waived; unlike the first Adam. He trusted the things that were happening to Him were in accordance with the prescribed plan for man’s redemption God had devised (Isaiah 53; 50:4-8; Psalms 22:1-20). He was the second Adam, “the second man” – man’s promised Redeemer. Suffering extreme thirst and pain, Jesus finally cried out “It is finished”, “Father into your hands I commit My Spirit”. He then bowed His head, breathed His last and died. A soldier thrust a spear into His side bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

His mission on Earth was accomplished, the prophecies were fulfilled. The heel of the Redeemer was bruised but the head of evil was crushed. By His sinless life and sacrifice on the cross, the power of evil over humanity was conquered and the penalty for sin paid. Not until the Son of God sacrificed His human life vicariously on the cross for sin and sinners was the extent of God’s love, and the destructive nature of Satan’s evil way, fully understood; not even by loyal angels and the celestial host.

The body of Jesus was taken down from the cross, embalmed by friends, wrapped in linen and laid in a tomb. Although the tomb was heavily secured and guarded by Roman soldiers to ensure His body was not removed by His followers, when inspected on the third day the tomb was found empty. The large boulder that sealed the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away by a shining angel. When the Roman guards saw this they passed out in fear. Having lived a sinless life and vicariously paying the penalty for sin, death had no rightful claim or hold on Jesus. On the third day He rose to life again from the tomb as prophesied He would (John 2:19-22). “By His power, God raised the Lord from the dead” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Footnote: The prophet Isaiah prophesied this event in some detail about 700 years before it happened. It is recorded in Chapter 53 and Chapter 52 verses 13 and 14. Check it out! Actually, in various ways, the whole Old Testament pointed to this culminating event for the salvation of mankind.