Salvation in Jesus

The eighth part of Ministry's extended series on the Seventh-day Adventist faith

Ivan T. Blazen is professor of religion at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, United States.

Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Belief #9: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. "In Christ's life of perfect obedience to God's will, His suffering, death, and resurrection, God provided the only means of atonement for human sin, so that those who by faith accept this atonement may have eternal life, and the whole creation may better understand the infinite and holy love of the Creator. This perfect atonement vindicates the righteousness of God's law and the graciousness of His character; for it both condemns our sin and provides for our forgiveness. The death of Christ is substitutionary and expiatory, reconciling and transforming. The resurrection of Christ proclaims God's triumph over the forces of evil, and for those who accept the atonement assures their final victory over sin and death. It declares the Lordship of Jesus Christ, before whom every knee in heaven and on earth will bow. (John 3:16; Isa. 53; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4, 20-22; 2 Cor. 5:14, 15, 19-21; Rom. 1:4; 3:25; 4:25; 8:3, 4; 1 John 2:2; 4:10, Col. 2:15; Phil. 2:6-11.)

The good news of Scripture centers in the reality that "God is love" (1 John 4:16). Because of "the great love with which he loved us" (Eph. 2:4, NRSV) He has become "the God of our salvation" (1 Chr. 16:35; Ps. 79:9). As the Savior He calls all humanity to turn to Him and be saved (Isa. 45:22). In response we can affirm: "But as for me, I will look to the Lord, I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me" (Mic. 7:7, RSV).

When the budding Israelite nation was in slavery in Egypt, God heard their cry (Exod. 2:23, 24) and, with a mighty hand, brought them out to freedom (Deut. 26:8). The Exodus was the great est salvation event prior to the coming of Christ as Messiah. Its themes are woven into the description of salvation history throughout the Old Testament. It explained Israel's past, gave meaning to its present, and inspired hope for its future.

What the Exodus was to the Old Testament, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are to the New. These interrelated events cast their salvific radiance over all time. In Jesus a new exodus occurs. An exodus from sin and guilt, evil and suffering, the demonic, and even death itself.

The expression "God our Saviour," found in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; Titus 1:3; 2:10) is an appropriate title for God since it sums up the whole history of His saving activity in behalf of His people. Significantly, a parallel to this phrase in the Pastoral Epistles is the expression "Jesus our Saviour" (Titus 1:4). This juxtaposition reveals that what God does redemptively, He does primarily in Jesus. Jesus embodies God's saving purpose.

Jesus: the divine and the human

Jesus' earthly life is framed on both sides by divine events and meanings. Mark begins the story of Jesus with His baptism, when He was empowered by God's Spirit and identified as God's Son. Matthew and Luke begin with Jesus' virgin birth by the action of the Spirit. John traces Jesus' origin to His preexistence as the Word in the eternal realm of God. On the other side of Jesus' earthly life is His resurrection from the dead and ascent to the Father.

It is clear that while Jesus was a real human being, He was no ordinary person. The one who walked the hills of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem, who healed the sick and challenged religious authority and imperial power by giving new status to the oppressed, and who was crucified by Pontius Pilate and died as a criminal this was the Son of God who stood in a special relation to both God and humanity.

He was the eternal Word made flesh, the supreme revelation of the nature and purpose, love and grace of God. When He spoke, He spoke with divine authority. When He acted, He brought divine intervention in behalf of a lost and struggling humanity.

He died as a result of religious politics and Roman power, but it was no ordinary death. In the biblical witness, He died for our sins as our Representative and Substitute and as an atoning Sacrifice through which forgiveness of sin and newness of life are granted.

In His death and resurrection He was victor over the forces of evil and the dominion of death. Through union with Him as the resurrected Lord, this victory is ours. Until the day He comes again, when every knee bows and confesses Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father, it is our privilege to already call Him Savior and Lord, and to accept His gift and receive His summons, "Come and follow Me."

The invitation of Jesus

In a pithy summary of the essence of Jesus' teaching ministry, Mark 1:14, 15 says that Jesus entered Galilee with a threefold announcement.

First, "the time is fulfilled." This statement must have sent shivers up the spiritual spines of His hearers, for they had waited long for the fulfillment of their messianic, eschatological hope of redemption. Jesus announces here that their wait is over. Something of greatest magnitude, to which the Old Testament gave witness, is about to be disclosed and revealed.

Second, Jesus gives specific form to the time of fulfillment by declaring that "the kingdom of God is at hand." To speak of God's kingdom is to refer to the reign, or rule, of God. In other words, God, as Creator, is about to assert His power to rule by intervening in human history to deliver His people.

This kingdom is both present and future. In the Lord's Prayer we are to pray, "Thy kingdom come" (Matt. 6:10), and when it does come at the return of the Son of man in glory, we are to enter it (Matt. 25:31-34).

And yet, the kingdom is present, for Jesus declared that it had drawn near (Mark 1:15), could be entered now (Luke 16:16; Matt. 21:31), and was present to His contemporaries in His presence, words, and deeds (Luke 17:21) as witnessed, for example, by His exorcism of demons by the power of God (Luke 11:20).

The third element of Jesus' proclamation was "Repent and believe the gospel." The right response to the good news of what God offers through Jesus is faith and repentance. God's kingdom does not come upon us by force but as an appeal to make a decision for God, to say Yes to Him, receive what He has for us, and allow His rule to be manifested in our lives.

Repentance has various connotations, depending on whether it is understood in terms of Greek or Hebrew thought patterns. The basic meaning of the Greek word metanoeo, which is used in Mark 1:15, is to change one's mind. This fits well with the Greek emphasis on intellect.

While this idea is a component of repentance, it does not do justice to the dynamic Hebrew concept that lies behind the Greek form of the word. In Hebrew the concept of repentance comes from a term that means "to turn," and hence "to return." In this arena, "to repent" means to do an about face in the way one has been walking through life and to come back to God and His will. It is a complete redirection of one's life in which the will and way of God become paramount and determinative. It is synonymous with conversion.

The idea is well represented in the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. We are told that when he had wasted his inheritance on immoral living and found himself feeding pigs and hungering for their food, he came to his wits (verse 17) and said, "I will get up and go to my father" (verse 18). This is the same as saying, "I will go back to my father."

Sorrow and confession are part of this movement back as illustrated by the prodigal's words to his father, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son" (verse 21). With such a repentance, the outcome is certain.

Compassion and restoration by the father take place. So with the heavenly Father, who calls to us in the words of Joel: "Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" (Joel 2:12, 1 3, NRSV).

When Jesus summons people to turn back to God and His rulership, the certainty of God's compassion and forgiveness is inherent in the call.

The character of Jesus' ministry

The character of Jesus' ministry and the practical significance of the kingdom of God are enhanced in His Nazareth sermon in Luke 4:16-21. Jesus takes on Himself the mantle of the Servant of God in Isaiah 61:1, 2. As the Servant, and in fulfillment of the Isaiah passage, He says that the Spirit of God anointed Him to bring good news to the poor and to proclaim release to the captives and oppressed, renewed sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord's favor.

The two main themes involved in this mission are freedom and grace freedom from whatever holds us in its thrall, and the grace of God's acceptance, for which the time is entirely open with the present arrival of Jesus. It is significant that Jesus did not continue the quotation from Isaiah with the words that immediately follow: "and the day of vengeance of our God." Jesus throws all His emphasis onto grace. Vengeance is not the point for now. Acceptance alone is in His mind. He wants every bondaged soul to know that he or she can be a part of God's kingdom and have a new, grace-filled relationship with God.

There are seven "Jesus came" statements in the gospels, which indicate what the purpose of Jesus' mission was. Nearly all these are in line with Jesus' emphasis on God's favor and acceptance in His Nazareth sermon. The gospels declare that Jesus came to:

1. Expound God's law more fully (Matt. 5:17, a verse that is expounded more fully in 5:21-48);

2. Seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10);

3. Call sinners rather than the righteous (Matt. 9:13);

4. Be a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11:19);

5. Save rather than condemn the world (John 3:17);

6. Give life more abundantly (John 10:10);

7. Minister, rather than to be ministered to, and to give His life a ransom for people (Mark 10:45).

Jesus' death and resurrection

The last statement brings us to the point of Jesus' death. It was a death expressing self-giving love. Jesus' intent was not to have others serve Him but to serve them.

In this, one is reminded of the moving statement of American President John F. Kennedy 2,000 years later, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." The same principle is involved but, in Jesus' case, He was not talking about others giving themselves, but about offering Himself. And it was not a general statement about a life of service, but a focused statement about giving Himself up to death for others.

What His death would do for others is indicated by the word ransom, which is a reference to giving that which frees others who cannot free themselves. In this case, by giving His life, Jesus liberates others to live. This is not cheap grace, for "You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18, 19, RSV).

The same emphasis is found in the scene of the Last Supper where, in reference to the bread and wine, Jesus states: "This is my body which is given for you ... my blood which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Cor. 11:23-25).

Thinking of death as bringing life, I cannot forget the words of a now aged survivor of the Holocaust during World War II. He described how, as a young boy, he was fortuitously quartered in the same barracks as his father. The ration of bread was pitifully meager hardly enough for one to survive, but day by day his father gave his bread to his son. As a result, the father grew weaker and weaker and finally died. In his lecture the son tearfully explained, "My father gave his life for me."

The ransom theme of Mark 10:45 and the body and blood motifs of the Last Supper are developed in other New Testament writings. In Romans 3:24, Paul declares that our justification takes place through an act of redemption, a term in the same word family as ransom.

This means that we are put right with God through a divine act of liberation from sin. This occurred when God set forth Christ as an atoning Sacrifice, through which our sin was purged and God's holy wrath and universal justice were obviated, it being initiated by God Himself as an act of His own redemptive, merciful, and inexpressibly loving nature.

All this had as its purpose to exhibit God's saving righteousness, by which He restores us to a right relationship with Himself. Indeed, in an act of ultimate identification (3:25), God "for our sake, made [Christ] to be sin [the sin bearer] for us, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21, RSV).

This is the great exchange; He takes our sin and we receive His righteousness. This righteousness involves our reconciliation to God, for, as the same context makes clear, "In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them" (2 Cor. 5:19, RSV).

The Christ who was put to death to deal with our sins was raised in order to effect our justification (Rom. 4:25). A dead Savior cannot save. As His resurrection vindicated Him, so it justifies us. Without the Resurrection, the apostolic proclamation and our faith would be in vain, we would remain in our sins, and the dead would have forever perished (1 Cor. 15:17, 18).

The significance of Christ's resurrection

However, if Christ be risen, the results are of an altogether different kind. Because Jesus lives, all who belong to Him will be made alive (1 Cor. 15:20- 23), and the universal dominion of God will be realized (24-29). God's people will be transformed into the image of the resurrected Christ (42-50), and immortality will be granted (51-55). In view of this, it can be readily seen why the resurrection of Christ, along with His death, is called a matter of "first importance" (3).

But it is not alone for the future that Jesus' resurrection has consummate significance. It has profound ramifications for the present as well. In contrast to the preaching and faith that become vain if the Resurrection is not true (1 Cor. 15:14), Paul asserts that the continuing life of Jesus guarantees that "in the Lord your labor is not in vain" (58). In other words, abounding in the work of Christ will find fruition instead of futility. What we do for Him counts permanently.

Furthermore, when we not only work for Christ but suffer for Him, we learn that we are not to "rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor. 1:9). Our confidence is that by the power of His resurrection He will carry us through. This is illustrated in 2 Corinthians 4:8-11, where the Cross stands for the negative side of life, and the Resurrection represents the power of God, which carries us through darkness.

The Cross the Resurrection. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed. Perplexed but not driven to despair. Persecuted but not forsaken. Struck down but not destroyed. Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.

Thus the power of the Resurrection is operative not only at the end of time but in the midst of time. We can know that "he who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again" (2 Cor 1:10, RSV).

Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus makes possible in the present the ethical renewal of the believer. For as those baptized into Christ, we were baptized into His death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory (power) of God, we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3, 4). The same power that raised Christ is operative in the moral life of those who are in union with Him.

In view of all that the death and resurrection of Jesus means and brings, and in view of so great a salvation, we can exclaim with Peter, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protect ed by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (Peter 1:3-5, NRSV).

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Ivan T. Blazen is professor of religion at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, United States.

August 2003

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