Christ’s Death and Its Significance

We are coming to the close of the season of Lent, that season of the year in which the church more than at any other time meditates upon and preaches about the suffering and death of our Savior on Calvary’s Cross. In fact, just three days after you are supposed to receive this issue of The Standard Bearer, most of the Christian churches will conduct special Good Friday services which, of course, will be followed with special Easter services on the following Sunday. 

This same theme is carried out in most of the religious periodicals we receive. All, with few exceptions, contain at least one or two articles dealing with some phase of the passion and death of Christ. It is with mixed feeling that we read them. On the one hand, we rejoice in the fact that, at least in the more conservative literature we read, the cross of Christ receives its deserved attention: But, on the other hand, we are, greatly disappointed in the contents of most of these articles. This is especially true when the writers of these articles attempt to explain the significante of Christ’s death, and. particularly the redemptive purpose of that death. Oh, they will admit the vicarious character of Christ’s passion and death. Indeed, according to them, Christ’s death was substitutionary, but He was a substitute for all sinners. He is therefore a Savior for all. All sinners may go free because Christ died for them. 

A good illustration of this presentation is to be found in the March 17th issue of Christianity Today. We refer to the article of Herschel H. Hobbs under the title: The Meaning of the Death of Christ. After a brief introduction the writer divides the rest of his article under the following headings: A Voluntary Death, A Vicarious Death, A Votive Death, and A Victorious Death. We are primarily concerned with what he writes under: A Vicarious Death. This is what he writes: 

“A vicarious death simply means a substitutionary death. In his crucifixion Jesus was our substitute, bearing the penalty for our sins. This is seen in Jesus’ becoming the substitute for Barabbas. According to Roman custom, the Jews had the privilege of selecting one prisoner to be released for them at the season of the Passover. Knowing this, and hoping thus to release Jesus, Pilate asked the crowd whom they would have released unto them, Barabbas, a notable prisoner accused of insurrection, murder, and robbery, or Jesus. At the instigation of the chief priests and elders, the people chose Barabbas and called for the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:15-22). Thus, when our Lord died between two thieves he was actually a substitute for the sinner, Barabbas. 

“In actuality, of course, Jesus died not merely as the substitute for one man, but for all men (I Tim. 2:6). This truth is clearly taught in the Bible. More than seven hundred years before that event Isaiah spoke of One who ‘hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,’ of One who was ‘wounded for our transgressions . . . bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes (bruises) we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray . . . and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Is. 53:3-6). Literally, the Lord ‘hath made the iniquity of us all to meet on him.‘ 

“Jesus’ vicarious death is the theme also of John 1:29: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, the One bearing away the sins of the world’ (literal translation). The words ‘bearing away’ mean to take upon one’s self and. carry that which has been raised by another. Thus Jesus became the scapegoat of the New Testament as he took upon himself the sins of the world. 

“Every man, were he to bear to his own death his own sins, would fall under the weight of the burden and be unable to carry them away. For this reason God mercifully raises our sins off from us and places them upon Jesus, the Lamb of God, who in turn carries them for us in death as our Substitute.

“It is significant that a few weeks before Jesus’ death, Caiaphas, the high priest, had pointed out to his colleagues that it was expedient that ‘one man should die for (author’s italics) the people, and that the whole nation perish not’ (John 11:50). John comments that Caiaphas had unknowingly ‘prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad (John 11:51f.). This word for is indeed significant, for Jesus uses, it in explaining the purpose of his death: ‘I lay down my life for (author’s italics) the sheep’ (John 10:15), that ‘whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting ‘life’ (John 3:16). Had thejustice of God prevailed Barabbas, not Jesus, would have been crucified. But because his judgment is wielded in mercy, Barabbas and all other sinners may go free. 

“Jesus Christ was our Substitute. And as we lift our eyes to see him hanging on a tree, we must avow, ‘But for the grace of God, there hang I’.” 

It cannot escape the reader’s attention how the writer of the above lines leaves the atonement of Christ general, i.e., how Christ is said to be a substitute for all sinners. I find no particular atonement here at all. Instead I find a studied attempt to present a Christ for all. And in my judgment this destroys the very idea of vicarious atonement. A Savior for all, is really a Savior for none. 

How much better it would be and truer to the Scriptures to say that Christ died in the place of His people, His sheep, His elect. Rut it seems there are only a few who dare to say this. 

Even the editor of Christianity Today in his editorial “Preaching the Cross” in the same issue of this periodical makes Similar statements as the writer referred to above. I quote three of these statements at random. “The Scriptures present the sacrifice on the cross as once and for all accomplished for the sin of the world.” “True biblical preaching of the cross must therefore set forth Christ as the great High Priest offering himself a sacrifice for the sins of the world’—sacrifice that procures pardon and eternal life.” “A true preacher of the cross will point out that Christ gave his life a ransom for many, that he bare our sins in his own body on the tree, and is the propitiation for sin. Setting forth that truth, therefore, is the direct and only way of calming the troubled conscience and putting men in possession of peace.” 

I submit that there is nothing distinctive in that kind of preaching; and no Arminian will ever object to it. I also fail to see how any man’s conscience will be calmed, nor that he will ever come into the possession of peace with that kind of preaching. 

But Christianity today appears, wants whatChristianity Today says it is. It also appears that they know nothing of what our Reformed fathers aver in Canons of Dordt II, 8: “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.” 

That is what must be preached, and this preaching is the only kind that can calm the troubled conscience and give abiding peace.

The Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah. Edward J. Young, professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, writes an interesting and informative article in the March 17th issue of Christianity Todayunder the above title. Professor Young is reputed to be an eminent scholar in Old Testament studies, and has written several books and commentaries in his field. He has obviously also given a rather thorough review of the latest archaeological findings respecting the prophecy of Isaiah. 

To the reader who may not know what is meant by “The Dead Sea scrolls,” a Subject which has received considerable attention in most of the religious periodicals recently, it might be well to give a word of explanation. Dead Sea Scrolls refer to manuscripts of the Old Testament Scriptures which have recently been discovered near the northwestern end of the Dead Sea iii Palestine where archaeologists searched the caves and discovered the monastery of Qumran in which these valuable ancient documents had been preserved. 

Professor Young tells us that “of all the manuscripts discovered none can compare in importance and significante with the great scroll of the prophet Isaiah.” He describes it as “written in a beautiful Hebrew hand on 17 sheets of leather sewed together,” and consisting of 54 columns. It is about a foot in height and 24 feet long. The clearly written text is not divided into chapters as is the case in our English Bibles, but into paragraphs.” As to its antiquity, we are informed that “There now seems to be fairly widespread agreement that the scroll of the prophet Isaiah comes from the late second century B.C.” 

The writer continues: “What is of importance to note is that the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea is without question the earliest known extant entire copy of any book of the Bible. It is about one thousand years earlier than the earliest portion of any copies of the Hebrew Old Testament now extant. In the light of this fact we may well ask, What light does this important manuscript throw upon the text of the Old Testament?” He answers: “The answer to this question is that for the most part the Isaiah scroll agrees remarkably with the text of the Hebrew Bible already in our possession, the so-called Masoretic text . . . There are, however more important divergenties from the Masoretic text. In certain instances the scroll shows a preference for the reading of the Septuagint rather than for the Masoretic Hebrew. Thus, to take an example, in Isaiah 53:11 the scroll reads, ‘he shall see light,’ and thus follows the Septuagint, ‘to show him light.’ There are also other minor variations.” Professor Young is not ready to accept the theory that the monks who lived in the monastery at Qumran were of the sect of the Essenes, but he does say that apparently it was a sect that did not vigorously maintain all the tenets of Judaism.

The important point in the article of Professor Young, it seems to me, is to be found in the following quotation from his article: “The Isaiah scroll is a wonderful testimony to the accuracy of the Masoretic text, and its divergenties are very few and minor. Here then is further witness to the fact that the text of the Old Testament is one upon which we may rely and whose teachings we accept with confidence.” And in answer to the higher criticism, which denies that Isaiah is the secondary author of the entire prophecy, the Professor writes: “On the other hand, those who believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God and hence believe the witness of the New Testament to the authorship of Isaiah, may rest assured that in this new manuscript there is further support for their position . . .”