RPM, Volume 16, Number 52, December 21 to December 27, 2014

The Character of the Cross Work of Christ

By Robert L Reymond

Excerpt From A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
(original Greek transliterated)

THE CROSS WORK of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God's Alpha and Omega, stands at the beginning, the center, and the end of God's eternal will and all his ways and works. Christ's cross work is sacred ground. It is the church's "holy of holies." John Murray describes our Lord's cross work as "the most solemn spectacle in all history, a spectacle unparalleled, unique, unrepeated, and unrepeatable" and the site of "the most mysterious utterance that ever ascended from earth to heaven, 'My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?' " Beholding it, we are spectators of a wonder the praise and glory of which eternity will not exhaust. It is the Lord of glory, the Son of God incarnate, the God-man, drinking the cup given him by the eternal Father, the cup of woe and of indescribable agony. We almost hesitate to say so. But it must be said. It is God in our nature forsaken of God. The cry from the accursed tree evinces nothing less than the abandonment that is the wages of sin… There is no reproduction or parallel in the experience of archangels or of the greatest saints. The faintest parallel would crush the holiest of men and the mightiest of the angelic host.

As the Surety of the elect in the eternal plan of salvation, and in fulfillment of God's covenant promises to Abraham (Luke 1:54—55, 68—73; Rom. 15:8—9; Gal. 3:8—9, 13—14), and as the Mediator of the covenant of grace and the only Redeemer of God's elect, the Lord Jesus Christ performed his saving work in their behalf in his threefold office of prophet (Deut. 18:15; Luke 4:18—21; 13:33; Acts 3:22), priest (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 3:1; 4:14—15; 5:5—6; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1), and king (Isa 9:6—7; Pss. 2:6; 45:6; 110:1—2; Luke 1:33; John 18:36—37; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 19:16). Theologians refer to these as the three offices of Christ, with all the other Christological designations such as Apostle, Shepherd, Intercessor, Counselor, and Head of the church being subsumed under one or more of these three general offices. Fulfilling his office work of prophet, Christ (1) claimed to bring the Father's message (John 8:26—28; 12:49—50), (2) proclaimed God's message to the people (Matt. 4:17) and to us, his disciples (Matt. 5—7), and (3) foretold or predicted future events (Matt. 24—25; Luke 19:41—44). Still today he continues to exercise his work as prophet in "revealing to us, by his word [John 16:12—15] and Spirit [1 Pet. 1:10—11] the will of God for our salvation" (Shorter Catechism, Question 24) and our edification (Eph. 4:11—13).

Executing his office work of high priest, Christ (1) offered himself up to God as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile the church to God (Rom. 3:26; Heb. 2:17; 9:14, 28) and (2) makes and continues to make intercession for all those who come unto God by him (John 17:6—24; Heb. 7:25; 9:24). Performing his office work of king, Christ (1) calls his elect out of the world to become a people for himself (Isa. 55:5; John 10:16, 27), (2) gives them officers, laws, and censures by which he visibly governs them (1 Cor. 5:4—5; 12:28; Eph. 4:11—12; Matt. 18:17—18; 28:19—20; 1 Tim. 3:1—13; 5:20; Titus 1:5—9; 3:10), (3) preserves and supports them in all their temptations and sufferings (Rom. 8:35—39; 2 Cor. 12:9—10), (4) restrains and overcomes all his and their enemies (Acts 12:17; 18:9—10; 1 Cor. 15:25), (5) powerfully orders all things for his own glory and their good (Matt. 28:19—20; Rom. 8:28; 14:11; Col. 1:18), and (6) finally takes vengeance on his enemies who know not God and who obey not the gospel (Ps. 2:9; 2 Thess. 1:8). This delineation of Christ's three general offices indicates that he exercises them in both the estate of his humiliation and the estate of his exaltation (Isa. 9:6—7; Ps. 2:6; Rev. 19:16). That is to say, one must not think that it was his prophetic and priestly ministries that he exercised before his death and entombment while it is his kingly office that he has exercised since his resurrection; the Scriptures represent him as exercising all three offices in both estates. In filling these offices Christ meets and fulfills all the needs of men. "As prophet he meets the problem of man's ignorance, supplying him with knowledge. As priest he meets the problem of man's guilt, supplying him with righteousness. As king he meets the problem of man's weakness and dependence, supplying him with power and protection."

In this chapter our Lord's office work as priest will be particularly considered.

The cross work of Christ is central to the Christian faith and its proclamation, because of who it was who died on the cross and what it was he did there. With the apostles the church affirms that it was the eternal Son of God, the Word who became flesh, the Lord of glory, who died on Calvary (Rom. 9:5; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; John 1:1, 14; 20:28; 1 Cor. 2:8). Accordingly, in its best moments, the church has "gloried in nothing but the cross" (Gal. 6:14) and has "resolved to know nothing among [the nations] except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). It has done so even though it knows that the preaching of the cross is "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23). It has done so, not only because it knows that "God was pleased through the foolishness of preaching [the message of the cross] to save those who believe" (1 Cor. 1:18, 21), but also because it recognizes that the cross of Christ is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). For Paul to characterize the cross of Christ the way he did in 1 Corinthians 1:24�""the power of God and the wisdom of God"�"implies that God accomplished a truly great salvation through the cross work of the Lord of Glory. One can sketch the momentous outlines of that "so great salvation" simply by surveying what the New Testament epistles affirm about the "body," "blood," "cross," and "death" of Christ, words which taken in their contexts represent that great work in terms of a sacrifice (see also 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 7:27; 9:26, 28; 10:10, 12, 14).

THE BODY OF CHRIST

The New Testament affirms the following about the accomplishments of Christ's "body," this word referring in the contexts cited to his body offered up in sacrifice to God:

Romans 7:4: Christians "died [ethanatothete] to the law through the body of Christ."

Colossians 1:22: God "reconciled [apokatellaxen] you by the body of [Christ's] flesh through death to present you holy and unblemished and blameless in his sight."

Hebrews 10:10: Christians "have been made holy [hegiasmenoi] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

1 Peter 2:24: Jesus "bore [anenenken] our sins in his body on the tree, in order that we might die to sins and live for righteousness�"by whose wounds you have been healed [iathete]."

THE BLOOD OF CHRIST

The New Testament affirms the following about the accomplishments of Christ's "blood," the word blood in these verses to be construed as theological shorthand for his sacrificial death. Acts 20:28: God "acquired [periepoiesato] [the church] through his own blood" (or "through the blood of his own [Son]."

Romans 3:25: God "publicly set Christ forth [proetheto] as a propitiation [hilasterion], through faith in his blood, to demonstrate his justice because of the passing over of sins committed beforehand in God's forebearance." (See also Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)

Romans 5:9: Christians "have been justified [dikaiothentes, that is, pardoned and constituted righteous] by his blood."

Ephesians 1:7: Christians "have redemption [apolytrosin] through his blood, the forgiveness of trespasses" (see Col. 1:14, where Paul attaches directly to "redemption," virtually as a synonym, "the forgiveness of sins.")

Ephesians 2:12—13: Gentile Christians "who once were far away have been brought near [egenethete engys] [to Christ, to citizenship in Israel, to the benefits of the covenants of the promise, to hope, and to God himself] by the blood of Christ."

Colossians 1:20: God was pleased through Christ "to reconcile [apokatallaxai] all things to himself, having made peace [eirenopoiesas] through the blood of his cross."

Hebrews 9:12: Christ "entered the Most Holy Place once for all through his own blood, having obtained [heuramenos] eternal redemption [lytrosin]."

Hebrews 9:14: The blood of Christ "will cleanse [kathariei] our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God."

1 Peter 1:2, 18—19: God's elect were chosen "for sprinkling by the blood of Jesus Christ," which figure portrays Christ's death as a sacrificial death in fulfillment of the Old Testament typical system of sacrifice in which the blood of bulls and goats was ceremonially sprinkled on the persons and objects to be cleansed. Furthermore, it is by his "precious blood" that the believers "were redeemed [elytrothete]" from their former empty way of life.

1 John 1:7: "The blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses [katharizei] us from all sin."
Revelation 1:5: Christ "loved us and freed [lysanti] us from our sins by his blood."

Revelation 5:9—10: Christ "purchased [egorasas] for God by his blood men from every tribe and language and people and nation, and made [epoiesas] them for God a kingdom and priests, and they will reign on the earth."

THE CROSS OF CHRIST

Paul states the following about the accomplishments of the "cross"�"again, metaphorical shorthand for Christ's sacrificial death:

Ephesians 2:16: God "has reconciled [apokatallaxe] both [Jews and Gentiles] in one body to God through the cross, having put to death [apokteinas] [God's] enmity by [or "on"] it."

Colossians 1:20: Christ "made peace [eirenopoiesas] through the blood of his cross."

Colossians 2:14—15: God "canceled [exaleipsas] the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it out of the way [erken ek tou mesou], nailing it fast to the cross. Having disarmed [apekdysamenos] the rulers and authorities, he exposed [them] publicly [edeigmatisen en parresia], triumphing [thriambeusas] over them by it."

THE DEATH OF CHRIST

Finally, the New Testament affirms the following about the accomplishments of the "death" of Christ:

Romans 5:10: "When we were enemies, we were reconciled [katellagemen] to God through the death of his Son.

Colossians 1:21—22: "Once you were alienated and enemies in your minds as shown by evil works, but now God has reconciled [apokatellaxen] you … through [Christ's] death, to present you holy and unblemished and blameless in his sight."

Hebrews 2:9—10: "We see Jesus, through the suffering of death, being crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God in behalf of all he might taste death. For it was fitting for [God] … in bringing many sons to glory to perfect the Author of their salvation through suffering."

Hebrews 2:14: Christ "shared in their humanity in order that through his death he might destroy [katargese] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free [apallaxe] those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."

Hebrews 9:15: "He is the Mediator of a new covenant in order that, by means of death as a ransom to set them free [eis apolytrosin] from the trespasses under the first covenant, the ones who have been called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."

Other verses, without using the noun "death," also speak of what Christ accomplished when he "died":

John 12:24: By "falling into the ground and dying," Christ's dying "produces many seeds."

Romans 5:6: "When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."

Romans 5:8: "When we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

1 Corinthians 15:3: "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures."

2 Corinthians 5:15: "He died for all in order that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."

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