Atonement in the Writings of John and in the Book of Hebrews
March 26th, 1975 @ 7:30 PM
1 John 5:5-8
ATONEMENT IN THE WRITINGS OF JOHN
AND IN THE BOOK OF HEBREWS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 John 5:5-8
3-26-75 Wed. 7:30 p.m.
The lecture tonight closes the study of the atonement in the Bible. Beginning the next Wednesday night, we shall study the patristic doctrine as the early church fathers interpreted the death of Christ. How does the death of Christ save us? And then, we will follow it through to this present day, as men have sought to explain the meaning of the death of our Lord and how He saves us in that death from our sins.
So, this lecture number six closes the study of the atonement in the Bible. And it is entitled Atonement in the Writings of John and in the Book of Hebrews. First, in the writings of John, and that would be John, 1 and 2 and 3 John, and the Revelation.
In the writings of John, Christ is the sacrificial Lamb slain for the sins of the world. Do you remember in the first chapter of John, verse 29, John the Baptist introduces Him to the world with these words: "Behold the Lamb of God"? [John 1:29]. And the meaning of that, to any Jew, was poignant and dramatic. Through the years and through the centuries, he looked upon the Holy City and the holy temple as hallowed and sacred unto God, because that was the place the Lord had ordained for the sacrifice to be made unto Him [Deuteronomy 12:5-7]. And every morning and every evening a lamb was slain and sacrificed for the sins of the nation [Numbers 28:3-4]. When, therefore, John, the great Baptist preacher, pointed out Jesus as being the Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world [John 1:29], every Jew immediately knew what he meant.
In John 19:33-37, there is his eye-witness account of the death of our Lord. And in that account, he says that they brake the legs of one of the thieves and another of the thieves [John 19:32]; but when they came to the Lord Jesus, it was so manifestly clear that He was already dead, that "they brake not His legs." But a soldier took a spear and thrust it into His side [John 19:33-34]. And John saw, in that freedom from breaking the bones, a picture of the Paschal lamb, when the Lord God gave directions saying, "Not a bone is to be broken" [Exodus 12:46]. And in that identification of Christ with the Paschal lamb, he saw in Jesus the Savior from our sins and from the bondage of death.
In the Book of the Revelation the word "lamb," referring to Christ, occurs twenty-nine different times. For example, in the great, marvelous paean of praise in the fifth chapter verse 12, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and honor, and glory" [Revelation 5:12].
· And then in Revelation 7:14, "These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
· And in Revelation 12:11, ",the saints of God overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony,."
· And in Revelation 13:8, our Lord is referred to as the "Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world."
· And in Revelation 21:27, describing the city and its inhabitants, he says that only those enter in whose names "are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life."
You can see, in the writings of John that the idea of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb [John 1:29], who was offered to take away our sins [Hebrews 7:27], is ever present in his Gospel and all of his writings.
Now, in the writings of John the death of Christ is looked upon as a manifestation of the love of God for the redemption of the world [John 3:16]. The purpose of His death was to take our sins. In 1 John 3:5, he writes, Christ "was manifested to take away our sins." He came into the world to die [Hebrews 10:5-14]. And this remission of sins in His blood [Matthew 26:27-28], provided, made the necessity, that we find in His death. He had to die. It was not optional with Christ whether He die or not; if we were to be saved, Christ had to die.
There is a "must" in John 3:14, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must," so is it vitally necessary, "for the Son of Man to be lifted up." Now this gift of His life for us is a demonstration of His love for us.
In Revelation 1:5, "Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood." And in John 15:13, the Lord says, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That is what Christ did for us. Out of the love of His heart He gave himself willingly for us.
And John saw in the death of Christ something vitally, significantly different from the death of any other man. Now I want you to see how he will follow that in the doctrine that he will write in his epistle. When John looked at the Savior dying, he noticed that when the Roman soldier withdrew the iron spear, that there followed after the iron blood and water [John 19:34].
A doctor will tell you that Jesus died of a broken heart. And there is a sac in which the heart beats. And the heart of the Lord ruptured, and the blood poured out into that sac, and it settled, the limpid serum and the red corpuscles, one to the bottom and the other to the top. And when the Roman soldier pierced that sac and withdrew the spear, there followed after what looked like water and red blood.
Now John saw that, and in that he saw a great doctrinal statement of the meaning of the death of Christ, which was different, he says, he thinks, from any other death of any man in the world. And this is how he writes it:
Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit . . .
And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
[1 John 5:5-8]
Now, in preaching that, men will take several different ideas presenting their interpretation of it. What did John mean when he says that the three great witnesses to the savior hood of Christ are water, blood, and Spirit? Well, just for a brief moment of what I think, which is just my interpretation: the Spirit, of course, capital "S" – the Spirit of God witnesses to the deity, and the atonement, and the saviorhood, and the resurrection, and the glorious intercession and return of our Lord. It is the Spirit of God in us that witnesses to the truth of the Lord in Christ.
The blood, of course, is His saving sacrifice [Hebrews 9:22]. This is our remission of sins [Matthew 27:27-28]. This is He that came by blood [1 John 5:6]. Without the shedding of blood, no man can stand in the presence of God [Hebrews 9:22, 10:22; Leviticus 17:11]. There must be blood offered, sin atoned for, when one approaches God. What does the water signify? [1John 5:6, 8]. I think the water signifies the Word, the laver of the washing of water by the Word. As Paul writes in chapter 5 of Ephesians, "We are sanctified; we are cleansed, with the washing of water by the word" [Ephesians 5:26].
And I think John meant that the Lord is witnessed to by the Holy Spirit of God [1 John 5:6, 8]. "Look," says the Spirit, "this is the Son of heaven." He is witnessed to by the blood, poured out into the world [John 19:34]. This is the atonement for our sins [Hebrews 9:22]. And the Word of God bears witness to Jesus [1 John 5:7], and it is the Word that reveals to us the meaning of His cross, of His sacrifice, the certainty of His deity and resurrection and His glorious coming again. This is what John saw when he looked upon the death of our Lord.
Now, we shall discuss for a moment the relation of His death to His life, as John presents it. First of all, John would say that His death was the chief goal of His life [John 12:27]. In the tenth chapter of John, verses 11 and 15, he quotes the Lord as saying that He is the "Good Shepherd" who lays down His life for the sheep. No man takes His life from Him [John 10:11-15]. If the Lord died by coercion He could not be our Savior. But He, willingly, not coercively, He willingly laid down His life for us. And that is why He came into the world [Hebrews 10:5-14].
Now, John will say that out of His death was to grow the great harvest of souls unto God. In John 12:24, he says, "Except a corn of wheat fall unto the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit." And the death of Christ is the corn of wheat planted in the earth, that out of it should grow this tremendous harvest unto God. Look around you; there is a sweet, precious, harvest that is brought unto God, in the name of Jesus, here in this sacred place.
And then, John presents the Lord Jesus in His death as glorifying God. He was glorified in His death. In John 12:23, when the Greeks came to see Him, the Lord says, "The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified" [John 12:21-23]. And then, in the following verses, "If I, if I be lifted up . . . I will draw all men unto Me. This He said, signifying by what death He should die"[John 12:32-33]. The Lord looked upon His death as a glorification. That is an unusual way, I tell you, to look upon crucifixion, that is, the glory of the Son that He would die on the cross.
Do you remember, in the addendum to the Gospel of John, in the twenty-first chapter, and appendix, that the sacred, sainted, disciple wrote in tribute to his old friend Simon Peter? Do you remember, in that, the Lord made the prophecy to Simon Peter that he should die by the outstretched hands, that is, he would die by crucifixion? [John 21:18]. And then, John adds, "This spake He signifying by what death he should glorify God" [John 21:19]. I repeat; that is an astonishing and an amazing interpretation. Simon Peter was to glorify God by suffering and crucifixion. When I think of the interpretation of the Christian faith of suffering, of agony, of death I am overwhelmed by it. This is the death by which he should be glorified, that is, by crucifixion.
And then John presents the death of Christ as a propitiation for our sins. That word, propitiation, propitious, is a beautiful word. The Latin, propitius, means "favorable, kind," and the word, propitiation, to propitiate, verbal form, propitiation, substantive, it refers to making one favorable, kind, generous, acceptable. If it is a propitious day, it is a day that is fraught and filled with wonderful blessing. A propitious occasion would be an occasion that is favorable and acceptable.
So the death of Christ is a propitiation for our sins; that is, in the day and hour of judgment and condemnation and damnation the death of Christ is a propitiation; it renders the day of judgment favorable for us. It takes away its sting.
In 1 John 2:2, he writes, "Christ is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." In 1 John 4:10, he writes, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Our sins that separate between us and God [Isaiah 59:2], that render us unclean and unworthy, in Christ we are cleansed; we are made acceptable. The Lord is propitious, "favorable," "acceptable," toward us.
Now sin is the problem with which propitiation has to deal. It is our sins that separate between us and God. And when Christ removes the stain of our sins, we are acceptable to the Lord and welcomed by Him.
And last, John speaks of the power of the death of Christ. First, according to John, the death of Christ in its power is extensive, all-inclusive. And that famous text, in John "And I, if I be lifted up . . . will draw all men unto Me" [John 12:32].
There are no particular men who are drawn to the blessed Savior. Some of them are black, some of them are white; some of them are learned, some are unlearned; some are rich, some are poor, all kinds of men, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto Me"; the mountaineer in his cabin, the plainsman on his pony, the child in the nursery, the little card class, the fine adult in his Bible course, the Hottentot in Africa, the university professor in Oxford, there is no demarcation; "I will draw all men unto Me" [John 12:32].
Not only is it extensive, the death of our Lord, but it is intensive. It cleanses us from all sin. "And the blood of Jesus Christ," 1 John 1:7, "cleanses us from all sin." Is there any sin that is unforgiveable? Only one, to reject, that’s all. Whatever a man has done, however violent he has been, to whatever depths he has descended, there are no sins that the blood of Christ does not wash away. It is efficacious; it is effective in the cleansing of all sin. I know of only one sin God never forgives; for a man to die in rejection of our Lord [Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:27-29].
The death of Christ provides an abiding victory over Satan. Revelation 12:11, we referred a moment ago, "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony," pleading the love, and grace, and atonement of Christ. Even the archangel Gabriel, when disputing with Satan over the body of Moses, he dared not say to him an open rebuke, but "The Lord rebuke thee" [Jude 9]. Satan is too much for us. We must plead the mercy and grace of Christ, Lord who loved me and died for me and washed me, and cleansed me, Lord, stand by me. "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony."
Now, the blood of Christ is to be appropriated, according to John, as the bread of life. John is the only Gospel that does not give an account of the institution, the establishment, of the Lord’s Supper. But, in the sixth chapter of John he speaks of the Lord as presenting a long discourse on the bread of life [John 6:32-58]. And in the fifty-third verse of that sixth chapter, the Lord says, "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you" [John 6:53]. And in verse fifty-four, the next one, "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day" [John 6:54].
When we have the communion service, the Lord’s Supper, that is a picture of our appropriation of what Christ has done for us; He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3]. This is His body, His blood was poured out for the remission of sins [Matthew 26:26-28]. This is His blood. And when we share the cup and the broken bread together, it is a sign of our appropriation of the atonement of our Lord [1 Corinthians 11:26].
Now last, the atonement in the Epistle to the Hebrews; the most profound and far-reaching interpretation of the death of Christ is to be found in the Book of Hebrews. And that goes for the whole Bible. Whether the Old Testament or the New Testament, there is no part of it that presents and discusses the profundity of the heights and depths of the meaning of the death of Christ as you find in the Book of Hebrews.
In the Book of Hebrews, through which Dr. Draper has been preaching every Sunday night these last many months, in the Book of Hebrews, atonement is presented in the context of an eternal relationship. Not just or primarily an historical relationship, Jesus dying for our sins there on Mount Calvary and according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3; Matthew 27:32-50], but the author of the Hebrews presents the atonement of our Lord in the context of the eternities.
Eternal means, "forever before, forever after, always and always." For example, in the fifth chapter of Hebrews, in the ninth verse, Jesus is called "the author of an eternal salvation" [Hebrews 5:9].
· In the sixth chapter of Hebrews in the second verse, he speaks of an eternal judgment [Hebrews 6:2].
· In the ninth chapter of Hebrews in the twelfth verse, he speaks that Christ has obtained for us an eternal redemption [Hebrews 9:12].
· In chapter 9, verse 14, he speaks of Christ as offering Himself through the eternal Spirit [Hebrews 9:14].
· In chapter 9, verse 15, he speaks of the benefits brought to us in the death of Christ as an eternal inheritance [Hebrews 9:15].
· In chapter 13, verse 20, he speaks of the blood of Christ as being the blood of an eternal covenant [Hebrews 13:20].
By this, he is saying that the atonement of our Lord is absolute and final. It is forever and forever. In all of the forevers and evers of the past, they were looking toward the death of our Lord. And in all of the forever and the forever and the forevers of the future, they all look to the eternal covenant of redemption, brought to us in the death of our Lord [1 Peter 1:18-19]. It is an absolute and final atonement. Nothing before sufficed, nothing after to be added; it is all-sufficient, all-adequate, forever and forever.
Now the author of the Hebrews avows that the person of Christ determines the meaning and value of the atonement [Hebrews 5:9]. Why couldn’t one of us die and make atonement for the sins of the world? Why couldn’t one, anybody, die, a Moses or an Isaiah or a David, or an Elijah, or a Paul, or a Peter, or a John, or an anybody of any age in any history? The value of the atonement lies in the person of Christ. It was His infinite person who made the atonement infinitely efficacious. It is His death that brought to us the merit of our forgiveness in Him.
Look at these things. As I read this famous passage in the first chapter of Hebrews, here is the Lord who is an eternal Creator, eternal in Himself, the Revealer of God. Look at it. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days . . . ." [Hebrews 1:1-2]. Do you notice that biblical conception? All the way through, the last days are the days in which we live. These are the last days. The last days are the days in which God is calling out His people, His church, this day of grace, this day of the Holy Spirit, this day of the church.
About a Sunday or two ago, when I was remarking upon our sometimes thinking that Jesus has been gone a long time, and that it is long that He delays His coming, not on God’s clock; for to God, a thousand years is as a day [2 Peter 3:8]. And in that event, the Lord has been gone but two days, and maybe He will come back the third. We do not know. But always, in the Holy Scriptures, this day in which we live is referred to as the last days.
God hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds.
In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, the Word was God . . . All things were made by Him: without Him was not anything made that was made.
By whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person – this is God manifest in the flesh – and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself – no one helping Him, no one needed – by Himself purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.
And in the second chapter, and the seventeenth verse, He is presented there as the great reconciler of men unto God, "in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people" [Hebrews 2:17]. This was wrought for us in the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate [Matthew 1:20-23].
Now, the method of the atonement, the author of the Hebrews presents, first, through the incarnation. "The blood of bulls and goats," he says, in chapter 10, "could not wash away sins . . . But a body hast Thou prepared for Me" [Hebrews 10:4-5]. Why the body prepared for our Lord? The body was prepared for our Lord for sacrifice that He might die for our sins [Hebrews 10:6-14; Matthew 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:3].
The Lord did not begin to exist when He was born in Bethlehem. "In the beginning was the logos, Jesus Christ" [John 1:3]. Back forever and forever, God always was. There has never been a time when God was not. In the beginning of the forever of the forevers, in the eternities, He was. If He was to make atonement for our sins, He had to have a body for sacrifice [Hebrews 10:4-7]. A spirit could not make atonement for us. He had to have a body. And He was given a body, in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In the secret parts of her physical frame, God built a body for Jesus [Matthew 1:20-23]. As Hebrews 10:5, "A body hast Thou prepared for Me." And that body prepared for the habitation of the Son of God, was framed in order that He might be sacrificed for our sins [Hebrews 10:8-14].
The method of atonement then was the incarnation [Matthew 1:21].
It was also the obedience in His earthly life. In Hebrews 5:8, "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered." And in Hebrews 10:7, "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me,) to do Thy will, O God."
Now, here again, had He been disobedient He could not have been our Savior. Had Jesus died under coercion, had they taken His life from Him against His will, He would not have been our Savior. Had He been disobedient in His life, He would not have been our Savior. He was perfected, that is, completely made our Savior by His obedient life. And in the Book Hebrews, He is presented as dying for every man. Hebrews 2:9, "that by the grace of God He should taste death for every man." He died in the stead of all of the lost sinners of the world [2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 2:2].
And to us who will receive the gift of salvation and life, He has already died for us, paid the penalty for our sins, and no man has to die anymore [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And what the world calls death, for a Christian, is nothing but an open door into the glory that is yet to come. It is just a translation from this body of suffering, and age, and death into the glorious liberty, enjoyed and shared by the children of God [Romans 8:21].
And in the Book of Hebrews, Christ is presented as suffering for us. Hebrews 2:10, "Making the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Not perfect in the sense of sinless, telios, perfect in the sense of complete, reaching the goal for which He came into the world [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 12:27].
Now last in this presentation of the atonement in the Book of Hebrews, the purpose of His death was to remove sin. In that passage I read in chapter 1, verse 3, having made a purgation of sins, He "sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" [Hebrews 1:3]. In Hebrews 2:17, He "made reconciliation for the sins of the people." In Hebrews 9:12, 24-28, He is presented as making one all-sufficient and final atonement.
Let me read that. In the ninth chapter of Hebrews and verse 12:
Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
Then, he continues in verse 24:
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;
Neither yet that he should suffer [Himself] often, as the high priest
entereth into the Holy Place every year with blood of others;
For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world . . .
Now, is that not what I spoke a while ago? In the Bible, always, our time is always referred to as the last days. And here, we are living at the end, in the end of the world.
But now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; one time did He die, and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation.
It is a final and complete and all-adequate atonement. There is not anything that needs to be added to it, nothing. It is final and full, once offered, and complete. Never has to be repeated, never has to be added to, not anything to add to or take away from; it is absolutely done, final, forever. Not anything that I can do, nothing at all, just to accept it, just to trust Him, just to believe Him; that’s all.
And what I do, never is it to be done as though I were buying my salvation or making myself worthy of His salvation. I just take His salvation by grace, by a gift [Ephesians 2:4-8]. And whatever I do is just out of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for what He has done for me. God bless His name. Oh, hallelujah!
And how could I show Him that I love Him and thank Him for saving my soul from death? The rest of my life I am to praise and honor the Lord for what He has done, never with any thought that I add to His atonement, that I need to do something to wash my sins away; He did it all. "In my hand, no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling" ["Rock of Ages," Augustus M. Toplady]. And whatever works we do, they are just to the praise and the glory, thanking Jesus for saving us.
And then, in the ninth chapter and the fourteenth verse, "His blood delivers us from dead works into a living fellowship" [Hebrews 9:14]. No longer working and working and working and maybe finding ourselves worthy to be saved. Ah! No. But receiving salvation as a gift, then all of our works is a living fellowship with our Lord, to the praise of His glory.
And in chapter 10 and verse 19, thus we are given boldness to enter into the Holy of Holies, into the very presence of God [Hebrews 10:19-20]. In Christ, there is no veil between us and the Lord. In Christ, there is no priest to mediate for us. Every man can go to God for himself, talk to Him, pray to Him, bow before Him.
Nor is there any place that is more hallowed or sanctified, as such, intrinsically, than any other place. A kitchen corner is as good as a cathedral to talk to God. A bedroom with the door shut is as fine a sanctuary as a beautiful chapel. The Lord has given us access, free, full, complete, into the presence of the great and Holy God. "Let us come boldly therefore boldly, that we might find grace to help in time of need" [Hebrews 4:16]. Just talk to Him; just open your heart to Him; just bare your soul naked before Him; just tell Him all about it. Ask His help, and you will find the Lord present in benedictory grace and loving power. This is the doctrine of the atonement, as the author of the Hebrews presents it to us, in the profoundest study in human language.
Now, we are going to make an appeal. Someone here tonight to come into the fellowship of the church, someone to give himself to Jesus, someone to respond as God would speak to your heart, on the first note of this first stanza, you come, while we stand. And what are we going to sing? A song that we could sing out of our hearts, "Amazing Grace," we can sing that. All of us sing "Amazing Grace" out of our hearts. And if God has put it in your soul to come, you come and stand by me.