The Meaning of His Death. What would it mean to go through life with the conviction that you have been called of God to die a violent death on the cross?
Study and Discussion Questions
Note: The cross, more than any other aspect of Jesus’ life, is capable of nurturing and dividing Jesus’ followers. The following outline greatly oversimplifies the issues, but does highlight the differences between those who focus on the Cross as a sacrifice to God paid heavenward (objective atonement) and those who focus on the Cross as a symbol of a God who has come to earth to reveal God’s character of love (subjective atonement). Both images speak powerfully of God’s love, both are biblical. Tragically, some find one set of images so crucial that they cannot see the other set at all, or seek to merge the two pictures into one. Here is a brief sketch of both perspectives, one drawing its primary inspiration from the writings of Paul, the other drawing its primary inspiration from John 14-17:
- Objective Atonement (substitution, penal satisfaction)
- Primary metaphor: courtroom
- Emphasizes a price paid heavenward (satisfying divine wrath or the claims of law)
- The dominant emphasis in Paul’s writings: e.g. 2 Cor 5:16 – 21
- Not present at all in James; not emphasized in John’s Gospel, but is present in the Johannine epistles (e.g. 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10)
- Subjective Atonement (moral influence)
- Primary metaphor: family
- Emphasizes Jesus’ life and death as teaching us about God
- Primary biblical passages: John 14-17; Luke 15:11-32 (prodigal son)
- Crucial role of the negative (not) in John 16:25-27
Note: The simple presence (or absence) of the negative in John 16:26 illustrates the difference between the two perspectives. The standard edition of The Great Controversy quotes the passage correctly: “I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you” (GC 416-17). But a 1971 edition published by Pacific Press omits the negative as follows: “I say unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: for the Father Himself loveth you” (p. 368). With the negative, the passage presents the message of John; the omission of the negative transforms the passage into Pauline theology. Both perspectives are biblical, but one comes from John, the other from Paul.
Important images of the cross. The following passages and metaphors help enrich our understanding of the cross and the meaning of Jesus’ death. All of them are necessary and helpful for illuminating the gift which emptied heaven on our behalf:
- An early harbinger: Simeon’s announcement of Jesus’ death, Luke 2:33-35. What evidence is there in the Gospels that Jesus lived with a fundamental awareness of his impending death?
- Ephesians 5:2, fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
- Matthew 20:28, ransom
- Hebrews 2:17, expiation
- 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, reconciliation