[This post is part of the Atonement series]
After looking at some foundational Old Testament passages, it will be helpful now to continue on into the New Testament seeing specifically how Christ’s work on the cross is the culmination of those texts and fulfills them.
Only the last passage, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, was specifically prophetic, but since it was strongly connected to the passage in Leviticus, which itself was dependent on Exodus 12, we can in some sense consider them all looking forward to some kind of fulfillment. What we see then in both the Gospels and the Epistles, is that those writers explicitly identify Jesus with the Passover Lamb (see John) as well as the Servant in Isaiah (see Peter). We’ll start however with Mark, and treat his gospel as representative of the other Synoptics (Matthew and Luke).
The key thought perhaps on the subject is in 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (ESV) This of course comes after the disciples quibble over who will be the greatest, and also after Jesus assures some of the disciples that they will indeed drink of the same cup as he does. The cup interestingly is more symbolic than one might imagine. Consider this passage from the OT:
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
shall drain it down to the dregs. (Ps. 75:8, ESV)
As seen elsewhere (Is. 51:17; Jer. 25:15-16; Ezek. 23:32-34; Hab 2:16), the cup is symbolic of pouring forth the wrath of God for punishing sin. Later in Gethsemane, when Jesus is praying so fervently he sweats drops of blood, this is makes more sense of the cup that he asks to pass from him. For Jesus then to be the ransom for many is to drink from the cup that is destined to be poured out on them. He does this in their place.
Likewise, just a few verses earlier, this statement is made:
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:33-34, ESV)
“Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people,and he abhorred his heritage;he gave them into the hand of the nations,so that those who hated them ruled over them.”
Now, when this idea of being handed over for judgment is coupled with the concept of the cup, it adds more force to the claim that Jesus is a ransom for many. He is handed over to bear wrath in their place. Mark, as well as the corresponding passages in Matthew and Luke are framing Jesus as a penal substitutionary sacrifice.
First, while most people know John 3:16 by heart, very few probably know Numbers 21:4-9 at all, yet that is the context John is invoking before and after 3:16. To see it all together:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:14-18 ESV)
The particular incident in Numbers occurred after many of the people Israel rebelled (again) and God sent poisonous snakes as a punishment. However, God also provided a remedy by Moses lifting up a bronze snake so that anyone who was bitten by the snake, yet looked upon the one held up by Moses, would be healed and live.
Very, very similarly, we have rebelled against God and God has sent punishment for our sin. However, if we look upon Christ on the cross who bears our sin, we will not die from our sin but will live. We stand condemned, but if we look upon Christ (that is to say, believe in Him), we don’t die (perish) but will have everlasting life.
The other passage worth noting in John is 11:47-52 where Caiphas (the High Priest at the time) prophesied that it would be better for one man to die in the place of the nation. Certainly he did not understand the fullest implications of what he said, but that is just to demonstrate how a single speech act can have multiple illocutions (intended meanings). Caiphas meant one thing by what he said, God meant something that had a much fuller Messianic sense. We could say Caiphas was talking about a small hill while in reality he was referring to a mountain that was obscured by the distance.
I could write an entire post just on Romans, but I also feel that given an understanding of the Old Testament background, Romans is pretty straight forward. Rather than comment on it, I would suggest just reading the first 8 chapters yourself, keeping in mind both the Gospels and the OT background. A similar reading could be done of Galatians 3 which is just about as explicit.
I’ll close instead by simply drawing attention to 1 Peter where probably the most explicit connection is made with Isaiah 53. In the context of suffering in a righteous way, Peter connects the foundation to Christ’s suffering on the cross:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25, ESV, underlining to highlight allusions to Isaiah)
Clearly, Peter saw Christ’s suffering as fulfilling that of the suffering servant in Isaiah, and later goes on to state that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” (3:18 ESV) This brings up an interesting point, and something we’ll return to a bit later, for Peter seems to attribute Jesus’ suffering for sins to both the righteous and the unrighteous. This evokes the question of the extent and application of the atonement, but in doing so, still clearly attributes Jesus work in the atonement to the category of a substitute.
Tomorrow, we’ll start looking at where this fits in the jigsaw puzzle of Christian theology and whether or not it is the exact piece needed to fill the hole, or whether it is something that theologians have tried to force in somewhere that it doesn’t fit.