John 19:30 says that Jesus paid a ransom (cf., Mk. 10:45) to propitiate the God of heaven (1John 4:10) in order that all men may be brought safely home to heaven (cf., ?). Right? And that payment was paid in full, right? Are we absolutely sure that the text actually says that? Or did someone empty Jesus’ bank account for an item that He never intended to buy Himself?
That is the current, most popular view of John 19:30, the one considered orthodox by the noted leaders within Christendom. As a result, no one is debating the meaning of this vital passage of Scripture. Well, maybe we should be debating it nonetheless because it should be noticed by all who study it that it absolutely does not say what everyone is saying that it says. The verse says,
“When Jesus, therefore, had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’ And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.”
The Greek term translated in the NASB as “it is finished” can also be translated “it is paid in full.” That is not the debate that needs to be pursued here. The honest dialogue, that needs to take place, is upon the assumption that undergirds the orthodox tenet that Jesus paid in full the eternal penalties that rest upon all men’s sins. Is it ever explicitly stated that all those who believe in Jesus for the payment He declared that He was making, obtain that payment so that, basically, heaven is now bought for them and is their guaranteed eternal destiny? Is that what Jesus paid for? Are we sure? Is there anything in the immediate context that demands that view? Or is that the result of man’s systematizing the Bible to fit his prior interpretative scheme for understanding the message of the Bible?
Most people living in the real world would want to know for sure what has been paid for and what has been left unpaid, right? Was the bill that has been paid the electric bill? Was it the water bill? Could it have been the gas bill? Maybe the bill that has been paid is your car loan! That would be better than the others, right? Or maybe it was the student loans that have been paid off completely. But what if it is the mortgage on your home that has been paid! That would be the best, right? For most of us, I think, if the bill that has been paid is our home mortgage, we’d find a way to pay the other, much smaller bills, don’t you think?
So, what is the bill that Jesus paid in full in John 19:30? If someone suggests that it was a full, satisfying payment to God (called a propitiation theologically) for man’s sins, most of us would be in some level of agreement with that understanding since 1John 4:10 explicitly says that such a payment to God has been paid. And we all know that we’ve been bought with a price (1Cor. 6:19-20) so that it may be said of us that we have been redeemed from our past, futile way of life that has been handed down to us from others (1Pet. 1:18). It seems to me that Christ’s work for us was to free us from our past behaviors that owned us, as it were, and to provide for us the opportunity and means to live a holy life before our heavenly Father (1Pet. 1:13-17).
But when you hear sermons or lessons on the payment Jesus paid, or upon the redemption that He offers, or the satisfaction (or propitiation) that He gave to the Father through His cross, they all seem to focus upon paying the debt before God that the sins of man has created, right? And with this payment, the eternal penalties that are attached to the temporal sins of man are all set aside because they have been paid for in full.
How do we know that this is the debt (the bill) that Jesus’ death pays? How do we know that His payment satisfies and therefore removes the eternal penalties caused by our sins? What passages would you direct me to that even describe these supposed penalties, created by our sins, as eternal in nature? Are there passages that you have found in God’s Word that explicitly affirm this supposition of eternal consequences for sinning against God?
Let us not forget, as I have shown in other articles that the term eternal is itself problematic since it is at least questionable, if not completely unsupportable, that it is ever used in the sense that our English term, eternal, is used. While both the Greek and the Hebrew terms may refer to something as long-lasting or everlasting, they do not have the sense of without end (or without a beginning).
When we hear a message about God redeeming a person, the point of the message is almost always upon a deliverance from hell, isn’t it? But that begs the question as to why the Bible would speak of God redeeming His people (Ex. 3, 4, 15:13, 16). How could God redeem His people at all? I mean, aren’t we all taught that redemption is from hell and that it occurs when a person initially places his faith in God or in Jesus? That redemption, we have been carefully instructed, makes a person God’s own, and guarantees him a place in heaven. At least that is what we have been taught, right? If this is true, then how can God redeem a person who has already been redeemed in order to be His own? Is there a second redemption?
While I don’t want to give the academic world any ideas (after all, there are now two justifications in some circles of Christendom, two graces, two faiths [a true one and a spurious one], two callings, two, and sometimes three, wills of God, etc.), every time we find the Scriptures don’t fit our theology we simply add a new piece to the Biblical puzzle ourselves, hoping to save our theology in the process.
I have never found the idea of redemption from hell discussed or ever referenced in the Bible. Consequently, a person is not being redeemed from the eternal wrath of God that is supposed to rest as a divine, eternal penalty upon the sins of man. This has been made up by the mind of man as he has attempted to construct a systematic understanding of the message of the Bible. But to think otherwise is to be charged with heresy (having unorthodox convictions). But what if the teachings that we consider orthodoxy are really heresy themselves? Our unorthodox convictions would actually be orthodox.
On the other hand, I do find God redeeming people from one mess after another. These messes may have any number of causes. But the point is redemption is divine extrication of a person from real life problems. Hence, it is possible to be redeemed more than once just as it is possible to be justified more than once just as it is possible to be reconciled more than once. That is the teaching of the Bible. Israel, God’s chosen people in the OT had a relationship with the one true God but they repeatedly strayed from God and needed Him to redeem them and to have them be reconciled to Him over and over. Jesus’ work on the cross on the world’s behalf is focused on this earthly life, not on what happens after death. Jesus’ payment of our debt was for the purpose of reentering into God’s presence after we have strayed from Him or after we have lived a life of spiritual indifference toward Him.
Let me leave you with one final thought. When Jesus died on the cross, the two to four inch woven veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, right (Matt. 27:51-56)? What, do you suppose, did that act of God signify? What work or accomplishment of Jesus on the cross does that portray? I believe it represents the truth that the entrance into God’s presence has been provided for all men through Jesus’ cross. His death made it possible for all men in every nation in every age to come into God’s presence for forgiveness and for fellowship. Jesus made this possible once for all. He doesn’t need to do anything else to secure these privileges for all men. The path has been laid. Now any man can walk that path back to God if he chooses. This is a result of Jesus’ payment in full on the cross of Calvary. But His payment does not secure a home in heaven for anyone. Going to heaven is a wholly different matter, having nothing to do with the work of Christ, with the obedient life of Christ, with how much man can do, or with what he must believe.
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