The Agora
Atonement Questions

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Was Jesus Like Us, or Different?

"Through Ins own blood, (he) entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12, RV).
It is a fundamental point of truth that death came upon all men through Adam (Rom 5:12,15), and that condemnation came upon the whole race through his offence (vv 16-19). Paul summarizes this principle when he writes: "in Adam all die" (1Co 15:22).

Here was -- and is -- the breach between God and the human race. Christ's mission was to heal that breach and reconcile the race to God. If we carefully examine all Paul's teachings on this subject we shall find that all the advantages of Christ's sacrifice for us depend upon the fact that he was one of us "in all points", and hence under the same condemnation that Adam brought upon the race.

Two aspects

Christ was one of the race which, as a race, was separated from God by the defilement caused by Adam's sin. (There is of course no guilt attached to the simple fact of separation.) It was only by being a member of our defiled and condemned race that he could fulfill the requirements for the redemption of that race. And. furthermore, the redemption of the race involved -- necessitated, for that matter -- his own redemption also.

It was also true that Jesus from his birth -- even from his conception -- was a holy thing (Luk 1:35) and a special creation. He was the Son of God in a sense that could be true of no other man. He had a unique relationship that, in part, strengthened him (Psa 80:17) and allowed him the possibility of living a sinless life -- and this was necessary also for the reconciliation of man to God (2Co 5:19-21).

It is the failure properly to balance these two necessary aspects of Christ's identity that has caused considerable misunderstanding, discord and even division among Christadelphians. From the earliest days of our history undue emphasis on one or the other of these two aspects (and a corresponding neglect of the counterpart) has created problems. Both must be kept in view at all times: the condemnation that rested upon Christ, and the uniqueness of his relationship with the Father. Or, put another way, that which made him like all other men, and that which made him different from every other man. One point of view should never be allowed to overshadow or displace the other. The two aspects are equally important.

Christ partook of our condemnation

Christ was a man (1Ti 2:5: Ads 2:22. etc) who came in the flesh (1Jo 4:2) being born of a woman, under the law (Gal 4:4). It would logically follow, even in the absence of any other testimony, that, in having the same physical constitution as ourselves, he was thereby subject to the same racial condemnation as the rest of mankind: in other words, that he had the same "law of sin" in his members (Rom 7:23).

But there is plenty of other testimony to this effect.

1. Heb 2:14,15: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." There are two points here. First, the fact: that Chris was made in all points like his brethren; note the repeated expressions "also", "himself", "likewise", "the same". Second, the reason: so that he might destroy the "devil".

It was necessary for him to partake of the same flesh and blood in order that he might destroy the devil by death. We know that the devil is sin in the flesh. Jesus had to have sinful flesh in order to overcome sinful flesh and by dying to destroy sinful flesh. This is the very strength of the whole argument.

2. Heb 7:27: "Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself." The simple and obvious meaning of this verse is that Christ offered once for his own sins and for the people's. This conclusion is sometimes evaded by objecting to the expression "his own sins", inasmuch as Christ was free from personal transgression. But by an examination of the ordinance referred to we find that the high priest offered "because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions" (Lev 16:16, RV).

So "sins" in Heb 7:27 includes uncleanness as well as actual transgression; it includes the whole "sin constitution". It is only by considering these two aspects of sin as inseparable parts of one whole that we can understand how Christ, by destroying the body of sin on the cross, could cover our transgressions.

Our sins are not something separate from our nature, they are a development of it. There are not "two kinds of sin", one moral and real, and the other only shadowy and metonymical. Rather, there are two aspects of sin: the "root" in our flesh and the "branch" in our actions. And the two aspects are intimately and absolutely connected to one another. In us sin is too strong for us and becomes manifest in our actions. In Christ sin was controlled and overcome, and never became manifest in action. But in both cases it is the same battle with the same adversary.

3. Heb 9:12: "By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place". The holy place signified the immortal state beyond the "veil" of the flesh. Christ entered it "by" (RV, through) his own purifying, sacrificial blood. The text continues: "...having obtained eternal redemption". The "for us" in italics in the AV is incorrect, and is omitted in the RV, RSV, NEB, NIV, and NASB. The verb "obtained" is in the middle voice, indicating reflexive action; that is, it means "having obtained for himself".

This is what one would naturally take from the passage as it stands in English. The translators of the AV appear to have added the "for us" in direct violation of the grammatical meaning, just to support their false theory of' 'substitution'. Any theory that attempts to separate Christ from the effects of his own sacrifice is just a variation of the old 'vicarious substitution' doctrine, and a denial of the representative nature of his sacrifice.

4. Heb 4:15: "(He) was in all points tempted like as we are." We are tempted by the law in our members, which wars against the law of our mind (Rom 7:23). We are tempted when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed (Jam 1:14). Then this must be how Christ was tempted, and this must be what he perfectly resisted and overcame, and this must be what he destroyed by death.

5. Rom 8:3: "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh." Christ had to be in the very likeness of sinful flesh in order to condemn sin in the flesh. Sin had to he condemned in the very 'arena' where it had reigned supreme. The word "likeness" does not mean apparent similarity; it means absolute identity.

6. John 3:14-16: " Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up..." According to Jesus' own testimony, he was the antitype of the brazen serpent that Moses erected in the wilderness (Num 21:9). What did this symbolize? How could it possibly typify Jesus Christ?

That which caused death was lifted up as a type of sin's body being crucified, thus forming the basis of reconciliation for all that look toward it. Paul refers to this when he says: "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom 6:6). Christ overcame and crucified our "Master", "Sin-in-the-flesh", and delivered us from his service. The "serpent" dwelt in his "body of sin", and required first to be restrained and finally to be crushed (Gen 3:15). Christ raised up the body of sin on the cross just as Moses raised up the brazen serpent, exhibiting and condemning that which brought death; those who look upon him in faith are delivered.

7. Heb 9:22,23: "Almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. It was therefore necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with these (that is, animal sacrifices); but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." We know that the Mosaic Law points forward to Christ. Under the Law the high priest was to purify with blood, among other things, the mercy seat and the altar (Lev 16:15-19). What is the antitypical fulfillment of the cleansing of the mercy seat and the altar by blood? What is signified by this? Who is it that was typified by the mercy seat and the altar?

"God has set (Christ) forth to be a Mercy-seat" (Rom 3:25, Diaglott);

"We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle" (Heb 13:10).

Christ is the mercy seat and the altar, cleansed by his own blood from the uncleanness of sinful flesh.

That which was accomplished provisionally in the temple offering (Luk 2:22-27) and in his baptism (Mat 3:13-16) was accomplished absolutely in his death and resurrection.

8. Gal 3:13: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written. Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." He had to come under the curse of the Mosaic Law, reasons Paul, in order to redeem those under that curse. This is parallel with the argument that Christ had to be flesh and blood in order to destroy the Adamic curse. He had to come under it in order to destroy it in himself, and open a way out of it for himself, and for all those who unite themselves with him in the appointed way.

He came under the Adamic curse by birth, as we all do. The Mosaic curse he came under, as Paul says, by the manner of his death. He came under both without the loss of his personal righteousness, it is true; but both were real nevertheless.

9. 2Co 5:21: "He hath made him... sin for us". In what way was he "made... sin", other than as Paul explains, by partaking of the same flesh and blood as the children, in whom the law of sin reigned?

10. 1Pe 2:24: "Who In his own self (we our sins in his own body on the tree." In what way did he hear our sins "in his own body"? As Paul explains, it was by partaking of sinful flesh, bearing "in his body" the root and tendencies of sin which he conquered and subdued.

"In his own body" establishes the connection between him and us. He was one of the defiled race. Therefore he could be accepted by God as representing the race.

If God had exacted a penalty from someone upon whom it did not rightly fall this would have been neither justice nor love. Instead it would have been a paganized 'substitutionary' 'sacrifice'. But when God especially provided and strengthened one of the race, and enabled him to fulfill the conditions which all (including himself) should fulfill, and then was and is willing to receive all the rest on the basis of an identification with this one perfect example and sacrifice -- there indeed is both love and justice demonstrated with beautiful Divine wisdom and power!

11. Heb 13:20: "God... brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus... through the blood of the everlasting covenant." Here is another key statement of great importance. Jesus was brought from the dead (surely this must include his glorification also?) by his own blood. His purification, redemption, and final exaltation to immortality were contingent on his being really associated with his blood.

Testimony of the 'pioneers'

To this essential truth the 'pioneer' brethren agreed:

It may be true that an occasional brief citation, out of context, may appear to teach otherwise than the above (for example, several brief answers by Robert Roberts during the heat of debate). But the above are only a few quotations from a pervasive, altogether consistent whole of exposition in the works of John Thomas and Robert Roberts and others, to the effect that Jesus shared with us every aspect of Adamic condemnation.


We have established that Christ was under the same condemnation as all the rest of mankind, and that his sacrifice was first for his own cleansing and redemption from that condemnation. This is half of the full picture; now we must examine the counterpart (just as necessary to understand), that Christ was a holy and special person set apart from all other men by his divine parentage.

Christ had a unique relationship with the Father

Heb 1:3: Christ was "the brightness of (God's) glory, and the express image of (God's) person." He was the perfect man; the perfect image of God (in a moral and spiritual sense); the flawless, unblemished manifestation of the eternal Father. He was the perfect Son because he was the perfect likeness of a perfect Father. Do we fully appreciate who and what this man really was? Have we concentrated on the fact (undeniable though it he) that he was not the pre-existent, eternal second person of the Trinity to such an extent that we have missed the honor and glory due to him as the Son of God?

John 14:9: "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." The Father was revealed, or unveiled, in Christ (John 17:6) in an absolutely unique way. He was a man, truly: but not 'a mere man', not 'man only'. As to his nature (and the condemnation he bore), he was certainly man in the fullest sense; as to his status, and his relationship with his Father, he was the manifestation of God and "the Lord from heaven". We must never forget this.

John 1:14: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth". Christ was "Emmanuel", "God with us" (Mat 1:23; Isa 7:14), "God... manifest in the flesh" (1Ti 3:16). In the face of Jesus men could see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God (2Co 4:4-6). And all of this was true of Christ even before he was made immortal. It was true while he still bore the curse of a condemned nature.

Col 1:15,16,18: Christ is the "image of the invisible God" (cp Heb 1:3), by whom (Greek: in whom) all things were created (this is undoubtedly the new or spiritual creation: cf Col 2:12; 3:1,9,10; 2Co 4:6; 5:17; Gal 6:15, etc), "that in all things he might have the preeminence."

John 13:13,14: "Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am". It was not immodest of Jesus to say such a thing, even in the days of his flesh. While he never presumed upon his Sonship and special status (this is the point of Phi 2:5-8), there is no doubt that he asserted its reality. Even before he was crucified he was "the Lord of glory" (1Co 2:7,8), the "Lord... of the sabbath" (Mar 2:28. etc), and the Lord over all illnesses and disease (Mar 1:39, etc), over the wind and the waves (Mar 4:41), and even -- to a limited extent? -- over death (Joh 11:25).

1Jo 1:1,2: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested...)". The apostle echoes the introductory words of his Gospel. Even in the days of his flesh Jesus possessed recognizable divine qualities: he was "the Word of life", who manifested "the eternal life, which was with the Father". "Never man spake like this man" (Joh 7:46).

Out of the numerous possible quotations from earlier Christadelphian writers that attest to the necessarily unique status of Christ, one will be sufficient:

"The two relationships are here presented in a manner to show how completely Jesus was qualified to meet the requirements of the fallen race. A 'son of man' merely had never been found, during four thousand years, who could accomplish the work; and yet the redeemer must be son of man in order to practically and representatively redeem fallen human nature by overcoming its sin-produced proclivities. But a son of man merely was not equal to the task; and had such an one done so there would not thereby have been a manifestation of God's love and the glory due to Him as the Saviour. Therefore Jesus must be 'the only begotten of the Father, full of 'grace and truth' (John 1:14) as well as the 'Son of man' according to the flesh in order that the work of redemption might be possible" (Thomas Williams, The World's Redemption 428,429).

Truths of salvation

We must have both these truths concerning Jesus as 'foundation stones' upon which to erect the true gospel of salvation in Christ. It was imperative that Christ be of our nature in every sense of the word so as to identify with us, and allow us to identify with him. Otherwise any 'victory' he won could have had no practical connection with and effect upon us. But it was equally imperative that he be specially created and specially strengthened by his Father to win that special victory. Otherwise there would be no triumph or glory to God. We do him no service when we attempt to diminish either of these concepts.

We are not playing with words; this is the reality of salvation. As a race, we are 'sin'. Everything we do naturally is sin. Sin is the very fiber of our being. We are conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity (Psa 51:5). This was true of Christ, and most assuredly of us as well. It is from this 'constitution of sin' that we need redemption, cleansing, and deliverance. Let us realize this fully; sin is far deeper and more pervasive than we may he willing to admit. A full realization of what we are is the key to the achievement of what we may become. Facing the facts is always the essential beginning to any solution. Let us face this reality concerning Christ and ourselves.

By total devotion to God, and with absolute faith in God (without which it would have been impossible), Christ lifted himself out of the universal sin-constitution. He cleansed himself from it in the sacrificial way appointed by God from the beginning. Now he who was "made... sin" (2Co 5:19-21) is no longer "sin", or sin-tainted (Heb 7:26), in any respect. He is free from sin, without sin; sin has NO MORE dominion over him (cp Rom 6:7-14).

And he now offers, by God's merciful arrangement, to reach down and lift us out -- if we have total faith in him, and give total devotion to him. This was the very purpose of his creation and existence and glorious work.

Paul said: "in me, (that is, In my flesh) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom 7:18). And Jesus could say exactly the same: "Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God" (Luk 18:19). That is why he crucified the flesh, and tells us we must do the same, to the best of our abilities. And the fact that Jesus could say this along with Paul is what MAKES HIM ONE WITH US IN OUR PROBLEM. It is what makes his putting the flesh to death a manifestation of God's justice (Rom 3:25). in which HE himself totally concurred.

In that death Jesus was saying exactly what Paul said publicly, humbly, and to the glory of God: "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing. This is what sin's flesh deserves. I have never yielded to it for a moment. I have always crucified it within me. And now, in obedience to the Father, and in full agreement with Him, I am pulling it to death in me once for all. I am destroying the diabolos. That is the essence and climax of my work of perfecting myself so that I may save you."

Redemption of himself

Christ -- in the God-appointed way, and with the indispensable God-provided help and guidance -- had to cleanse himself from sin and destroy sin in himself. This he did, not in one act, but by a total, inseparable life-and-death work. That is the basis and meaning of what we may too glibly call 'sacrifice'. It was his only way to his own personal salvation. He was made perfect by "suffering" (Heb 2:10), and thus was the "suffering" required. He was redeemed "by his own blood" (Heb 9:12).

His great work was not merely a symbol, illustrating what should be done to someone else. Neither was it, as some imply, just one final ritual. It was, instead, the ultimate one-time act (Heb 9:12,26). It was an actual, essential accomplishment: the self-cleansing from, and destruction of, sin. He did not just typify this: he did it. He did not 'pay the penalty' for anyone else. He did the actual job of destroying sin that was required by God's holiness, so that the race could he saved. He did it in and for himself. There was no other way or place he could do it.

It is true that Christ was always one with God. There was never any barrier separating them morally, although he was of sin-defiled flesh. But still the defiled nature was a barrier in one sense, for him as it is for us. He could not be one with God in perfection and eternal substance, as he is now, until that barrier was removed: not a moral barrier, but a physical and legal one: not a 'guilt', but a misfortune, a disability, an inherited disease of the flesh that must he cleansed in God's required way.

As to the motive for his sacrifice, Christ did it, not for himself, but in love and obedience to his Father, and for the sake of the glorious "seed" whose eternal redemption and joy was to he his eternal satisfaction (Isa 53:10,11).

The total life-and-death work of sin-destroying that was laid upon him as the representative man of the race was essential for his own cleansing and salvation, as part of the race. As the representative man, the embodiment and nucleus of the new race, the beginning of God's new creation, he must first himself be transformed from a defiled, condemned condition to a totally purified and perfected condition.

And his culminating blood-shedding death on the cross was an inseparable divinely required part of that work of racial salvation. He was not just ritually "cleansed" by "sacrifice". It was not just an arbitrary form that God required him to go through as an act of obedience, or to symbolize something. It was an actual personal process of conquering and self-cleansing; a being made perfect by suffering.

Redemption of the race

The work Christ did -- the essential, race-redeeming work that was preordained and foreshadowed from the beginning -- was the overcoming and destroying and condemning of sin in himself and, necessarily, for himself. It was not in and for himself as a personal, selfish motive, but as a practical, necessary operation to achieve the redemption of the race.

As a moral and physical actuality Christ could conquer and destroy sin only in himself. His flesh was the arena of his total and perfect victory over sin, by which he laid the eternal foundation for his further work. Christ will complete the battle against sin by two final related acts:

(1) He will absorb into his own glorious, sin-free nature all those who accept this deliverance provided by God and who in faith do what God requires them to do to receive it (Rev 21:1-7):

(2) He will destroy all who do not accept him and enter into him (Rev 20:11-15; 21:8). In these two ways the whole of mankind will eventually be saved or destroyed.

The race in Christ

Could Christ have attained to immortality without that blood-shedding death? No, because he must share the common racial salvation, or it has no benefit for us. In God's wisdom that particular death was essential to lay a sound basis for the salvation of the race. And (let us strive to grasp this wonderful and exalted concept) Christ was, and is, the race! He is all mankind. None can live eternally except within him and as part of him, by becoming "one" with him in the appointed fashion: "Of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord" (1Co 1:30,31).

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