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Redemption, pictures of

Christ's sacrifice is the central feature of man's salvation, and indeed of the whole Bible. It is reasonable, then, since God's revelation of Himself in the Bible is so beautifully rich and varied, that Christ's sacrifice -- and its effects upon us -- can be described under many figures of speech.

The Cherubim had four faces, because no one face can convey the diversity of the glory of God. Because no one gospel account can completely communicate the breadth and depth and impact of Christ's ministry, the story of his life and work has been given to us in four separate accounts. So it stands to reason that we need more than one definition or one picture to explain redemption -- what God did for us through Christ.

The Scriptures, in fact, present more than a dozen major "pictures of redemption", and many more minor "pictures". Each separate "picture" has subtleties and shadings, and points of contact with other "pictures". It is good and useful for us to appreciate the truth conveyed by each individual "picture", without at the same time allowing figurative language to confuse us as to principles. (The same is true of the Mosaic rituals and sacrifices. Sometimes, "proving" first principles from details of the Law can lead to confusion!) Like the parables, the "pictures of redemption" may mislead and distract the Bible student if he reasons too closely from the details and loses sight of the "big picture". By getting tied too firmly to any one of these figures, one may develop false or limited concepts of the sacrifice of Christ. We can guard against this by looking carefully at a number of the "pictures of redemption", and by determining (in conformity with some basic "Principles") what lessons we should learn from each. At the same time, we can marvel at the beauty and diversity of God's revelation of Himself.

The Basic Principles of the Sacrifice of Christ

Before we get into the "pictures" or "figures" of the sacrifice of Christ, we should outline the basic straightforward principles involved. These will constitute the Biblical foundation on which everything else in this study is built (the lists of proof passages are by no means complete):

1. Our need and helplessness: Jer 17:9; Mar 7:21-23; Rom 5:12; 7:18; Jam 1:13-15.

As Paul tells us in his epistle to the Romans, we cannot know the "good news" (Rom 1:16,17; 3:21 onwards) without first of all understanding the "bad news" (Rom 1:18-3:20). Principle #1 here stresses the "bad news" – ie, humans are all "sinners", or at least will be (if they live long enough); the "devil" (Biblically understood) is inside all of us; and we need to be saved from ourselves!

2. Jesus Christ was a man: Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4; Heb 2:14; 1Jo 4:2; 2Jo 1:7.

We are all, in Scriptural terminology, "lepers" -- totally unclean and trapped in bodies of death (Principle #1). God has sent us a Savior who is one of us! Jesus touched the "lepers", literally, in the working of his miracles, and he touches us (ie, partakes of our nature) so as to work the greatest of all miracles -- our salvation! That is what being a man meant... and means.

3. Jesus Christ is also the Son of God: Psa 80:17; Luk 1:35; 2Co 5:19-21; 1Jo 4:15.

Jesus was made a man so that he could identify with us, and we could identify with him. He was made a man so that he himself would be in need of salvation. And he was, at the same time, made the Son of God so that he could -- by the grace of God -- achieve that salvation.

4. Jesus Christ was tempted: Mat 4:1-11; Phi 2:5-8; Heb 4:15; 5:8.

5. But he was perfectly obedient: Joh 8:46; Rom 5:19; Heb 4:15; 7:26; 1Pe 2:22.

Jesus was tempted because he was a man. He was perfectly obedient, in part, because he was the Son of God. We say "in part" because his own faith (as well as his divine parentage) was indispensable to the achievement of a perfectly righteous life and a perfect final sacrifice. Jesus was truly a man, but a man plainly fitted by God for the task of atonement, as no other man has been or could be.

6. Thus he was our perfect representative: Mat 16:24; Joh 1:29; Rom 3:25; 1Jo 3:16.

In his humanity, Jesus identifies with us, and -- in recognizing that humanity -- we are invited to identify with him.

7. Christ's death was necessary for his own salvation: Phi 2:8,9; Heb 7:27; 9:7,12; 13:20.

In his own life, and by his death and resurrection, Christ won a very real victory over sin and the "devil".

8. Through Christ we may obtain forgiveness of sins: Act 4:12; 10:43; Rom 3:25; 4:25; Heb 9:22.

9. Through Christ we become children of God: Rom 8:15-17,29-32; Gal 3:27-29; 4:5; Eph 1:5; 2:11-15.

There is a change of status at baptism. God is making a covenant with us; we now belong to His family, and no longer (in any spiritual sense) do we belong to the family of our natural father Adam.

10. The death of Christ expresses God's love: Joh 3:16; Rom 8:31,32; 2Co 5:19.

The Father of Christ was and is intimately involved in the process by which salvation is offered to, and ultimately conferred upon, those who are "in Christ". Nothing the Father does is done grudgingly; He lovingly desires, and He works wholeheartedly toward, our redemption and our inclusion into His spiritual "family".


What is stated here has been deliberately simplified as much as possible (but, one hopes, not too much!) so as to convey basic principles without confusing or ambiguous language. Don't we all agree on these matters? Should these points be the focal point of controversy? Yet sometimes they are, and generally (this observer thinks, anyway) that is because we have attempted to "dig" more deeply into very profound matters. I am not saying it is wrong to seek out the "deeper things" of the Spirit of God; of course it is not! But sometimes, in pursuit of this objective, we set one idea against another, and concentrate on differences (or perceived differences) between brothers or groups of brothers. It is then especially that we may come to put too much emphasis on one or more of the "basic principles", and consequently less emphasis on others of those same "principles". In examining every aspect of one "tree" in the forest, as it were, we may lose sight of another "tree" which is equally important -- or we may even lose sight of the "forest" as a whole!

Truth Versus Error

The positive principles of Christ's sacrifice may be summarized and contrasted with some of the popular misconceptions of other "churches", as follows:

CHRIST DID... die as our representative.
CHRIST DID NOT... die instead of us, as a substitute.

The substitution (or redemption/ransom) picture -- while useful -- is incomplete and imperfect, because:
  1. we still die (Basic Principle #1 above);
  2. Jesus, as a man, had to die anyway (BP #2); and
  3. Jesus -- having "paid" for a total victory over sin and death -- did not remain dead, as he should have, if his life were understood as full payment for our lives!
CHRIST DID... provide a way for our sins to be forgiven.
CHRIST DID NOT... pay our "debt".

If a debt is paid, it cannot also be forgiven (but of course it is: see BP #8 above)!

CHRIST DID... obtain salvation for himself:
CHRIST DID NOT... have a "free life".

Christ was mortal anyway (BP #2), and therefore his "life" was mortgaged or encumbered; in other words, death was "owed" against that life. His body -- being mortal -- already belonged to "death". And since his life was not a "free" or "unmortgaged" life, it could not be used to satisfy anyone else's "debt". One cannot pay off a debt with his creditor's money (BP #7)!

CHRIST DID... show the love of God.
CHRIST DID NOT... appease the wrath of God.

This is the worst of pagan, non-Christian religion: an angry, vengeful "god" appeased by the death of an innocent victim. This may be the way the Gentiles perceived their "gods" as acting, but the One God of the Bible -- the God of love -- is not like this at all (BP #10).

CHRIST DID... live and die as our example.
CHRIST DID NOT... "do it all!"

We must follow his example (Mat 16:24). If Christ really "did it all" for us, then we should be able to live in whatever fashion we please. But of course we cannot: Christ is our representative and thus our example (BP #6), showing us how to live. And having become the children of God (BP #9), we must see that with our new status come new responsibilities (Rom 6).

The Words of Salvation

In writing of salvation in Christ, the apostle Paul especially uses various words. These are words which, through a superficial familiarity, we may come to use interchangeably, not appreciating the shades and nuances of meaning, nor the principles involved. Some examples:

In God's sight, man is...
Then the work of salvation is...
1. An accused person; a guilty person...
Justification (declaring or considering another to be innocent or righteous). A verdict of "Not guilty!"
2. An estranged person; an enemy...
Reconciliation (atonement, "peace" or "shalom" in an Old Testament sense) (see Rom 5:10; 2Co 5:18-20).
3. A debtor, who cannot pay his debts...
Forgiveness, or mercy (see Mat 18:23-35).
4. A slave, serving the wrong "master"...
Redemption (literally, "purchase", as of a slave out of a slave market).
5. An orphan, with no hope and no inheritance (Eph 2:12)...
Adoption or sonship (Rom 8:15).
6. Common, ordinary...
Sanctification (literally, the process of being set apart, or made holy; to become a "saint").
7. Unclean, impure...
8. In trouble or danger...


The question might arise: 'Why pictures in the first place?' Why indeed? Our fundamental Bible teachings, of which the atonement is (or should be) paramount, are expressed in straightforward, reasonable, and logical terms. We usually endeavor to make those teachings as simple as possible, for the enlightenment and encouragement of young people and those others who need to learn what the Bible says.

But the fact ought to be faced: the Bible does not express what we call the "first principles" in the simplest and most logical language -- at least not very often. Much more often, these basic teachings seem to be almost byproducts of what the Bible offers us... history, poetry, stories, allegories, parables, and moral exhortations. Sometimes we deduce these basic teachings from hints and allusions; we find them "between the lines". In fact, which of us has not had the passing thought: 'I do wish God had put in the Bible more plain statements... or maybe just one good inclusive list -- and highlighted it by telling us, "My children, here's what you need to know, and what you need to do; just concentrate on this!" '

But, of course, what we have instead is a book, or really a compilation of many books, written by many different men (and women?) scattered over a millennium and a half, and comprised of many different kinds of literature. True, as we are apt to point out to others, they all tell the same story, and have the same fundamental message -- that's beyond dispute. But one has to read, and study, and meditate upon each portion... before this fact comes into focus.

Well, part of the answer to 'Why pictures in the first place?' is this: because the people to whom the Bible was first given, in its separate parts and then as an entirety, were almost all Jews, along with a few other Middle Eastern folks. And these original recipients of the Bible and its message had different thought processes and patterns than we modern Westerners do. Notice: I am not saying 'better' thought patterns; nor am I saying 'worse' thought patterns. I am simply saying "different".

This might be summarized as follows:

East and West contrasts in thought patterns...

Biblical, Semitic, Jewish
European, German, English, American
"What does it do?"
"How does it work?"
Oriented to end, results
Oriented to means, process


It's fair to say that a good deal of what we call Bible exposition is really the attempt to put into Western, or modern, terms what the Bible has already said quite satisfactorily in figurative terms -- terms much more easily discerned by the people of Bible times and Bible lands than by us today. Which is not to denigrate the effort at all: given our culture and our background, such exposition seems essential.

In one sense, exposition is really just "translation" carried to another level: the translation not of words or phrases only, but also of concepts and ideas and philosophy.


Some of the Bible's "Pictures of Redemption"

The Scripture verses cited are examples; in most cases, there are many other illustrative passages. Some of these "pictures" are major themes running from one end of the Bible to the other; some are mentioned only once or twice, almost as an afterthought. All are interesting; all are instructive; all contribute to the full "picture"! (This list is far from exhaustive.)

  1. The redemption, or ransom, of slaves out of the "slave market" (1Co 6:20; 7:23; Gal 3:13; 4:5; Rev 5:9; 14:3,4).
  2. A shepherd caring for and protecting his flock (Psa 23; Isa 40:11; Eze 34:23; Luk 15:4; Joh 10:10-14; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25).
  3. A washing, or cleansing -- paradoxically, sometimes a washing with blood (Isa 1:18; Heb 9:22; 10:22; 1Jo 1:7; Rev 1:5; 7:14).
  4. A new "birth", a new "creation", a new beginning (Joh 3:3,7; 2Co 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10; Tit 3:5; Jam 1:18; 1Pe 1:23).
  5. A potter working with clay to produce a vessel (Isa 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18:1-6; Rom 9:20-24; 2Ti 2:20,21).
  6. A sacrifice or victim to seal or guarantee a covenant (Mat 26:27,28; Heb 9:15-17; 13:20).
  7. The crushing or destruction of a "serpent" (Gen 3:15; Num 21; Joh 3:14; Rom 16:20).
  8. A bond of reconciliation; a union of those who were previously enemies; a joining together in "one body" (Rom 12:5; 1Co 12; Gal 3:27-29; Eph 2:13-15; 4:4; Col 1:22).
  9. The acquittal of an accused, and guilty, criminal (Isa 50:8,9; Rom 3:26; 8:31-34; Heb 7:25; 1Jo 2:1).
  10. The paying of a debt; the forgiving of an offence (Mat 6:12-15; Mar 11:25; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13).
  11. A meal, or feast, of fellowship and joy (Mat 26:26-28; Luk 14:8-14; 1Co 11:26-29).
  12. Adoption into a family; the love of a father or mother (Isa 66:13; Rom 8:23; 9:4; 1Th 2:7,11).
  13. A marriage; the love of a bride and a bridegroom (Psa 45; Song; Rev 19).
  14. A farmer and his crop; the harvest (Mat 9:37,38; Mat 13; 20:1; 21:33,34; Luk 10:2; 1Co 3:6-9; 2Ti 2:6).
  15. Circumcision; crucifixion: a "cutting off" or repudiation of the flesh (Jer 4:4; Rom 2:25-29; Gal 5:24; 6:14,15; Col 2:11).
  16. The running, and winning, of a race (1Co 9:24-26; Gal 2:2; Heb 12:1,2).
  17. Victory in a battle or war (Psa 60:12; Joh 16:33; Rom 8:37; 1Co 15:54-57; 1Jo 5:4,5).
  18. The building of a house, a temple, or a city (Eph 2:21,22; Heb 3:6; 1Pe 2:5-9; Rev 3:12).
  19. A fisherman drawing in his net (Mat 4:18,19; 13:47-49).
  20. A putting on of a new garment (1Co 15:53,54; Gal 3:27; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10-14).
  21. A moral mandate; a call to action, to repentance and change (Rom 6:3,4; 12:1,2; Gal 2:20).
  22. The lifting up, or bearing, of another's burden (Isa 58:6; Mat 8:17; 11:29,30; Ro 15:1; Gal 6:2; 1Pe 2:24,25).
  23. Healing of blind, deaf, lame, etc: the resurrection of the dead (Isa 35; Joh 5:21-25; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:1-5; Col 2:13).
  24. A tree producing fruit (Mat 7:17-19; Mar 11:13,14; Luk 13:6-9; Gal 5:22,23).
  25. A spring of water (Isa 55:1; Joh 4:14; 7:37,38; Rev 21:6; 22:17).
  26. A rest from labor; the Sabbath day of rest (Isa 11:10; Heb 4:9; Rev 7:14-17).
  27. A "white stone" -- ie, a favorable vote, or approval (Rev 2:17).
  28. Wages received for work done (Mat 20:1-8).
  29. A hiding place; a refuge; a "rock"; a shelter (Psa 9:9; 18:2; 91:2; 144:2; Pro 18:10; Isa 32:2; Jer 16:19).
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