Sacrifice, in the New Testament, 2


VI. Rationale of the Efficacy of Christ's Sacrifice.

1. Jesus' Teaching:

Jesus emphasizes His voluntary spirit in making the sacrifice. "The Son of man also came .... to give his life a ransom." The sacrifice was voluntary, not compulsory. God did not force Him to lay down His life; He chose to do so (compare Joh 10:11). But Jesus gives us no philosophy on this or any other element in His sacrifice as being the ground of its efficacy.

2. Paul's Teaching:

Paul also emphasizes the voluntary gift of Christ (Ga 2:20), but he urges rather the dignity of Him who makes the sacrifice as a ground of its efficacy. It is the sacrifice of God's Son, shown to be such in His resurrection (Ro 1:4; 4:25b). It was no ordinary man but the sinless Son who gave "himself" (Ga 2:20). It was not merely a dying Christ but the Son who rose again "in power" (Ro 1:4), who secures our "justification" (Ro 4:2Ro 5:1-21b; 1Co 15:3-4,11Co 7:1-40b). Paul also emphasizes the sinless life and character of Jesus as a ground of efficacy in Christ's sacrifice, "who knew no sin" in His life experience (2Co 5:22Co 1:1-24a).

3. The Teaching in Hebrews:

The author of Hebrews, most of all New Testament writers, elaborates the grounds of efficacy in Christ's sacrifice. (1) It was a personal not an animal sacrifice (9:12-14; 9:26, "sacrifice of himself"; 10:4). (2) It was the sacrifice of the Son of God (3:5). (3) It was a royal person who made the sacrifice (6:20b; 7:1, "after the order of Melchizedek .... king of Salem"). (4) It was a sinless person (7:26,27; 9:14; 10:10,12). Westcott, Commentary on Hebrews, 298, well says, "It becomes necessary, therefore, in order to gain a complete view of the Sacrifice of Christ, to combine with the crowning act upon the Cross His fulfillment of the will of God from first to last, the Sacrifice of Life with the Sacrifice of Death." (5) It was an eternal person (6:20, "for ever"; 7:16, "after the power of an endless (margin "indissoluble") life"). The author of Hebrews reaches the climax of his argument for the superior efficacy of Christ's sacrifice when he represents Him as entering the holy of holies in the very presence of God to complete the offering for man's sin (8:1,2; 9:11,12,24).

Peter and John do not discuss the ground of efficacy, and so add nothing to our conclusions above. The efficacy of the sacrifice is suggested by describing the glory of the person (1Pe 1:19; 2:22-23; 1Jo 1:1-10:7b; 1Jo 2:2).

To sum up our conclusion as to the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice: Jesus and the leading New Testament writers intimate that the efficacy of His sacrifice centers in His personality. Jesus, Peter and John do not discuss the subject directly. Paul, though discussing it more extensively, does not do so fully, but the author of Heb centers and culminates his argument for the finality of Christianity, in the superior efficacy of Christ's sacrifice, which is grounded in His personality, divine, royal, sinless, eternal (see Menegoz, Theol. de l'Ep. aux Hebreux). It is easy to see, from the position taken by the author of He, how Anselm in Cur Deus Homo developed his theory of satisfaction, according to which the Divinity in Christ gave His atoning sacrifice its priceless worth in God's eyes.

VII. The Human Conditions of Application.

1. Universal in Objective Potentiality:

The sacrificial death of Christ is universal in its objective potentiality, according to Jesus (Lu 24:47, "unto all the nations"); according to Paul (Ro 1:5; 5:18; 11:32; 2Co 5:14-15; Ga 3:14); according to the author of Hebrews (Ga 2:9, "taste of death for every man"); according to John (1Jo 2:2, "propitiation .... for the whole world").

2. Efficacious When Subjectively Applied:

But the objective redemption to be efficacious must be subjectively applied. The blood of Christ is the universally efficacious remedy for the sin-sick souls of men, but each man must make the subjective application. How is the application made? And the threefold answer is, by repentance, by faith, and by obedience.

(1) By Repentance.

The Baptist and Jesus emphasized repentance (change of mind first of all, then change of relation and of life) as the condition of entrance into the kingdom and of enjoyment of the Messianic salvation (Mt 3:2; Mr 1:15). Peter preached repentance at Pentecost and immediately after as a means of obtaining forgiveness (Ac 2:38; 3:19, etc.). Paul, although emphasizing faith, also stressed repentance as an element in the human condition of salvation (Ac 20:21; Ro 2:4, etc.). John (Re 2:1-29; 3:1-22, passim) emphasizes repentance, though not stressing it as a means of receiving the benefits of redemption.

(2) By Faith.

Jesus connected faith with repentance (Mr 1:15) as the condition of receiving the Messianic salvation. Paul makes faith the all-inclusive means of applying the work of Christ. The gospel is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth" (Ro 1:16); "whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith" (Ro 3:25); "faith (not works) is reckoned for righteousness" (Ro 4:5); "justified by faith" (Ro 5:1). In Galatians, the letters to the Corinthians, in the Captivity and the Pastoral Epistles he emphasizes faith as the sole condition of receiving salvation. But what kind of faith is it that appropriates the saving benefit of Christ's death? Not historical or intellectual but "heart" faith (Ro 10:10). To Paul "heart" meant the seat or essence of the whole personality, and so faith which applies the redemption Christ is the personal commitment of one's self to Christ as Saviour and Lord (2Co 5:15). See Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon, pisteuo, 1, b, gamma, for a particular discussion of the meaning of faith in this sense. The author of Heb discusses especially faith as a conquering power, but also implies that it is the condition of entrance upon the life of spiritual rest and fellowship (chapters 3 and 4, passim). Peter (1Pe 1:9) and John (1Jo 3:23; 4:16; 5:1,5, etc.) also regard faith as a means of applying the saving benefits of Christ's death.

(3) By Obedience in Sacrificial Service.

Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mr 8:34). Here He lays down two elements in the conditions of discipleship, denying one's self and taking up his cross. The former means the renunciation of self as the center of thought, faith, hope and life. The latter means the life of sacrifice. Jesus was stressing this truth when He uttered that incomparable saying, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mr 10:45 parallel Mt 20:28). Paul also emphasizes this phase of the human condition of salvation when he shows how sanctification grows spontaneously out of justification (Ro 6:8) and when he says that what "avails" is "faith working through love" (Ga 5:6). The author of Hebrews says, "He became unto all them that obey him the author (Greek aitios, "cause") of eternal salvation" (Ga 5:9). Peter and John, the latter especially, emphasize the keeping of His commandments, the life of service, as the means of appropriating to the fullest the saving benefits of Christ's death. The theologians in classrooms and preachers in the pulpits have failed to emphasize this aspect of "saving faith" as did Jesus, Paul, the author of He, and John. in the New Testament salvation is a process as well as an instantaneous act on the part of God, and the process is carried on by means of obedience, the life of service, which appropriates by faith the dynamic of Christ's sacrifice.

VIII. The Christian's Life the Life of Sacrifice.

This discussion of the faith that "obeys" leads to the consideration of that climactic thought of New Testament writers, namely, that the Christian's life is sacrificial living based on Christ's sacrifice for him. We note in outline the following:

The Christian's life of sacrifice is the logical consequence of Christ's sacrificial death. The Christ who sacrificed Himself for the believer is now continuing the sacrifice in the believer's life (Ga 1:20; Php 1:21).

1. Consequence of Christ's Sacrifice:

Paul was crucified when Christ was crucified (in a bold mystic figure), and the life of Christ which sacrificed itself on the cross and perpetuates itself in resurrection power now operates as a mighty dynamic for the apostle's moral and spiritual transformation (Php 3:10-11). It is to be noted, Jesus also emphasized this kind of living, though not so expressly connecting the believer's sacrificial life with His sacrificial death (see Mr 8:34 f).

2. Christ's Death the Appeal for a Christian's Sacrifice:

Christ's sacrificial death becomes the persuasive appeal for the Christian's sacrificial life, "Because we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, that they that live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again" (2Co 5:14-15). Because He died for us we should live for Him. But what is the appeal which Christ's sacrificial death makes to the saved sinner? "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2Co 5:14). Christ's death on the cross exhibits His love, unspeakable, unthinkable love, for it was love for His "enemies" (Ro 5:10), and that matchless love kindles love in the forgiven sinner's heart. He is willing to do anything, even to die, for his Saviour who died for him (Ac 21:13; Php 1:29-30). It is a greater privilege for the saved sinner to suffer for Christ than it is to believe on Him. Peter (1Pe 3:17-18), the author of Hebrews (12; 13:13) and John (1Jo 3:16; 4:16-19) emphasize this truth.

3. Necessary to Fill Out Christ's Sacrifice:

The Christian's sacrifice is necessary to fill out Christ's sacrifice. "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col 1:24). Roman Catholic exegetes have made the apostle teach that the sufferings of the saints, along with Christ's sufferings, have atoning efficacy. But Paul nowhere intimates that his sufferings avail for putting away sins. We may hold with Weiss (Comm. on the New Testament) that Paul longed to experience in his life the perfect sacrificial spirit as Christ did; or with Alford (in loc.) that he wished to suffer his part of Christ's sufferings to be endured by him through His church; or, as it seems to us, he longed to make effective by his ministry of sacrificial service to as many others as possible the sacrificial death of Christ. Christ's sacrifice avails in saving men only when Christians sacrifice their lives in making known this sacrifice of Christ.

4. Content of the Christian's Sacrifice:

(1) The Christian is to present his personality (Ro 15:16). Paul commends the Macedonians for "first" giving "their own selves to the Lord" (2Co 8:5). (2) Christians must present their "bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" (Ro 12:1). In the old system of sacrifices the animals were offered as dead; Christians are to offer their bodies, all their members with their powers, to God a "living sacrifice," i.e. a sacrifice which operates in lives of holiness and service (see also Ro 6:13,19). (3) Christians must offer their money or earthly possessions to God. Paul speaks of the gift from the church at Philippi as "a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God" (Php 4:18). This gift was to the apostle a beautiful expression of the sacrificial spirit imparted to them because they had the "mind" of Christ who "emptied himself, .... becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Php 2:5-8). The author of Hebrews (13:16) exhorts his readers, "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." (4) The general exercise of all our gifts and graces is viewed by Peter as sacrificial living (1Pe 2:5): "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" etc. All Christians are priests and daily offer up their burnt offerings acceptable to God, if they `suffer as Christians' (1Pe 2:20; 3:18) in the exercise of their graces and powers.

But how do these sacrifices of the Christian affect him and God? The New Testament writers never hint that our sacrifices propitiate God, or so win His favor that He will or can on account of our sacrifices forgive our sins. They are "well-pleasing" to Him a "sweet odor"; that is, they win His approval of our lives thus lived according to the standard which Christ gives us. Their influence on us is the increase of our spiritual efficiency and power and finally a greater capacity for enjoying spiritual blessings in heaven (1Co 3:14).

5. The Supper as a Sacrifice:

Some scholars (Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.) regard the memorial supper as a kind of sacrifice which the Christian offers in worship. Neither Jesus, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Peter, or John, ever hints that in eating the bread and drinking the wine the Christian offers a sacrifice to God in Christ. Paul teaches that in partaking of the Supper we "proclaim the Lord's death till he come" (1Co 11:26). That is, instead of offering a sacrifice ourselves to God, in partaking of the Supper we proclaim the offering of Christ's sacrifice for us. Milligan argues that as Christ in heaven perpetually offers Himself for us, so we on earth, in the Supper, offer ourselves to Him (Heavenly Priesthood, 266). Even Cave (Spiritual Doctrine of Sacrifice, 439) maintains, "In a certain loose sense the Lord's Supper may be called a sacrifice." See the above books for the argument supporting this position.

To sum up our conclusions on sacrifice in the New Testament:

(1) Jesus and New Testament writers regard the Old Testament sacrificial system as from God, but imperfect, the various sacrifices serving only as types of the one great sacrifice which Christ made.

(2) All the writers, except James and Jude, with Jesus, emphasize the sacrificial idea, Jesus less, giving only two hints of His sacrificial death (in the Synoptic Gospels), the author of Heb putting the climactic emphasis on Christ's sacrifice as the sacrifice of atonement.

(3) As to the relation of Christ's sacrifice to man's salvation, the latter is the achievement of the former, so expressed only twice by Jesus, but emphatically so declared by Paul, the author of Heb, Peter, and John (Paul and Heb laying most emphasis on this point).

(4) As to how Christ's sacrifice saves men, Jesus, the author of He, Peter and John suggest the idea of propitiation, while Paul emphatically teaches that man is under a curse, exposed to the displeasure of God, and that Christ's sacrifice secured the reconciliation of God by vindicating His righteousness in punishing sin and His love in saving sinners. Jesus and the leading New Testament writers agree that Christ saves men through His vicarious suffering.

(5) As to the rational basis of efficacy in Christ's sacrifice, there is no direct discussion in the New Testament except by the author of Hebrews who grounds its final, eternal efficacy in Christ's personality, divine, royal, sinless and eternal.

(6) As to the conditions of applying Christ's sacrifice, repentance and faith, which lives and fruits in obedience and sacrificial living, are recognized by Jesus and all the leading New Testament writers as the means of appropriating the benefits of Christ's sacrifice.

(7) By Jesus, Paul, the author of He, Peter and John the Christian life is viewed as the life of sacrifice. Christ's death is at once the cause, motive, measure, and the dynamic of the Christian's sacrificial life.


In addition to the great comms.--ICC, Allen on "Mt," Gould on "Mk," Sanday-Headlam on "Rom"; Westcott on the Gospel and Epistles of John, and on the Hebrews; Davidson, Delitzsch and Meyer on Hebrews; Meyer on 2 Corinthians; Lightfoot and Abbott on Colossians; and the standard authors of the Biblical Theology of the New Testament, Weiss, Beyschlag, Bovon, Stevens, Sheldon--see the following special works: Cave, Scriptural Doctrine of Sacrifice, Edinburgh, 1890; Simon, Redemption of Man, 1886; G. Milligan, The Theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Edinburgh, 1899; Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord, London, 1908; W.P. Du Bose, High-Priesthood and Sacrifice; Everett, The Gospel of Paul, Boston, 1893; Burton, Smith, and Smith, Biblical Ideas of Atonement, Chicago, 1909; Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament, London, 1902; Denney, The Atonement and the Modern Mind, London, 1903; Ritschl, Rechtfertigung und Versohnung (Justification and Reconciliation), Bonn, 1895-1902, English translations of the Bible, 1900; Menegoz, Theol. del'Ep. aux Hebreux; article "Blood," Hastings, Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, by H. Wheeler Robinson; article "Communion with Deity," ibid., by Nathan Soderblom; article "Communion with Deity" (Christian), ibid., by Darwell Stone and D. C. Simpson; article "Expiation and Atonement," ibid., by W. A. Brown (Christian viewpoint), S. R. Driver (Hebrew), H. Loewe (Jewish); article "Redemption from the Curse of the Law," in AJT, October, 1907, by Professor E. D. Burton; article "Some Thoughts as to the Effects of the Death of Christ," in Revelation and The Expositor, October, 1909.

C. B. Williams


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