Salvation: a temple view

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 7: The Salvation of Sinners

Say the word propitiation today and you’re likely to encounter only blank stares. Say the same word to a first century audience and their minds would immediately turn to the pagan temples, where priests and desperate individuals made sacrifices to propitiate (appease, pacify) angry gods.

Many theologians and others who know the meaning of the word propitiation recoil at the image brought to mind when they read that Christ Jesus was “set forth as a propitiation” (Romans 3:25).

The picture of man appeasing God’s irrational anger by offering up an innocent victim is certainly not an attractive one.

But is this an accurate view of propitiation?

Certainly it is true of the sacrifices desperate pagans made to the gods who were not gods. But the sacrifice of Christ is far from this crude caricature.

What makes the propitiation Christ wrought so different than the propitiation of a pagan god?

1. The wrath of God is not capricious
Scripture makes clear that God is slow to anger and abounding in love. Far from the quick flare-ups and irrational inducements of man’s anger or the power-hungry caprices of the pagan gods, God’s wrath is His holy reaction to sin.

“The wrath of God…is His steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 173

2. God Himself initiated the appeasement
Unlike in the pagan temples where desperate men offered sacrifices hoping to appease an angry god, at the cross God initiated the appeasement. He made a way to satisfy His wrath. In this way, propitiation is not an act born out of the terror of man but out of the love of God.

3. God Himself was the propitiation

The offering of Christ on the cross differed from the sacrifices of pagan temples in one crucial way: Jesus Christ was not a victim. Yes, He was innocent. But He was not a victim. Rather, He willingly chose to go to the cross to offer propitiation on our behalf.

Far from the caricature of propitiation described above, the cross of Christ offers a beautiful picture of propitiation colored with the love of a holy God:
God Himself appeasing His own righteous anger by offering Himself on our behalf.

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

A Substitute Sacrifice

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 6: The Self-Substitution of God

“How then could God express simultaneously his holiness in judgment and his love in pardon? Only by providing a divine substitute for the sinner, so that the substitute would receive the judgment and the sinner the pardon.”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ, page 134

The second half of the theology of the cross is substitution. God must be satisfied–and He can be satisfied only through His own self-substitution.

The sacrificial system set up in the Old Testament sets the stage for an understanding of substitution. There were two basic types of offerings instituted by God–the offerings that recognize man as a sinner (sin and guilt offerings) and the offerings that recognize man as a creature (peace offerings, burnt offerings, and harvest festivals.)

The sin and guilt offerings are offerings that atone for and deal with man’s sin in order that fellowship between man and his Creator can be restored.

Even in the Old Testament, the idea of substitution is clearly seen. On the day of atonement, the priest placed his hand on the lamb’s head and confessed over it Israel’s sins–transferring the sins from the people of Israel onto the lamb. Then the lamb was slaughtered, sacrificed for Israel’s sins. It was not merely sacrificed because they had sinned–but it received the punishment for their sins in their place.

Of course, this type of sacrifice could never satisfy. Only a man can atone for the sins of man. And only God, having never sinned, is able to substitute. A lamb could only provide a picture, repeated year after year, pointing to the eventual day when atonement would be made once and for all. Every year when the lamb was slaughtered, Israel’s sins were ceremonially removed, only to return again.

But then in the fullness of time, Christ, fully God and fully man, the spotless Lamb of God, took up His cross and took upon Himself all our sins. A substitute, He stood in our place, received the punishment we deserved–the full wrath of God poured out.

“Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.”
~Stuart Townsend & Julian Getty, In Christ Alone

God was satisfied to substitute Himself in Christ for us and in doing so to restore us to fellowship with Himself. What an amazing, overwhelmingly awesome God!

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Unsatisfactory Satisfaction (Part 3)

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 5: Satisfaction for Sin

Check out the first and second parts of this chapter if you haven’t already.

At the end of part 2, I issued the question:

What is satisfied at the cross if not the devil?
What is satisfied at the cross if not the law?
What is satisfied at the cross if not God’s honor and justice?

The answer is almost painfully simple.

4. The cross satisfied God Himself.

Yes, the cross satisfied the law–but only because the law is an expression of God Himself. Yes, the cross satisfied God’s honor and justice–but only because those are attributes of God Himself. Those statements can only be true inasmuch as we recognize that what must be satisfied is God’s own character.

God is not bound by some external being or concept, whether by satan or by law or by justice. He is bound to one thing and one thing only–He is bound to ever be Himself. God must always act as Himself, in a way that is consistent with His own unchanging nature.

God judges sin, not because He is bound by the law, but because it is His nature to be holy and absolutely intolerant of sin. He acts for His name’s sake, for His own sake.

Stott summarizes his thesis in these words:

“…The way God chooses to forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself must, first and foremost, be fully consistent with his own character. It is not only that he must overthrow and disarm the devil in order to rescue his captives. It is not even only that he must satisfy his law, his honour, his justice, or the moral order: it is that he must satisfy himself. Those other formulations rightly insist that at least one expression of himself must be satisfied, either his law or honour or justice or moral order; the merit of this further formulation is that it insists on the satisfaction of God himself in every aspect of his being, including both his justice and his love.
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Too often, we think of God’s justice and His love as being two opposing forces held in tension. Yet this is not so:

“For God is not at odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is….True, we find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and of the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time. In the words of G.C. Berkouwer, ‘in the cross of Christ God’s justice and love are simultaneously revealed,’ while Calvin, echoing Augustine, was even bolder. He wrote of God that ‘in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us.’ Indeed, the two are more than simultaneous, they are identical, or at least alternative expressions of the same reality. For ‘the wrath of God is the love of God‘ Brunner wrote in a daring sentence, ‘in the form in which the man who has turned away from God and turned against God experiences it.'”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Unsatisfactory Satisfaction (Part 2)

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 5: Satisfaction for Sin

If you haven’t read the first part yet, I recommend that you take a look. This post is a direct continuation of the previous.

2. The cross satisfied the law

This view is also suggested in the Witch’s conversation with Aslan:

“‘Fool,’ said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, ‘do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.'”
~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Sin is violation of the law–and to fail to punish it would be to fail to satisfy the law. Stott gives a human example of this in the law that had Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. Even though King Darius really didn’t want to throw Daniel into the den, he had no choice but to do it. Even he was not above the law he had created.

This view has some utility and some Scriptural support. The Bible makes clear that the wages of sin are death. That price had to be paid. Sin has a curse associated with it. Jesus bore that curse.

Yet this view fails in that it subjects God to the law, as though God were “caught in a technical legal muddle.” Stott quotes R.W. Dale in saying that “God’s connection with the law is ‘not a relation of subjection but of identity….In God the law is alive; it reigns on his throe, sways his sceptre, is crowned with his glory.’ For the law is the expression of his own moral being, and his moral being is always self-consistent.”

3. The cross satisfied God’s honour and justice.

This view is likely to hold great appeal to Piper fans. It suggests that our sin is a dishonoring of God’s name, taking away the honor that is due Him, and that “God upholds nothing more justly than he doth the honour of his own dignity.”

Quoting Anselm (an early proponent of this view):

“Man the sinner owes to God, on account of sin, what he cannot repay, and unless he repays it he cannot be saved….There is no one who can make this satisfaction except God himself…But no one ought to make it except man; otherwise man does not make satisfaction….It is necessary that one who is God-man should make it.”
~from The Cross of Christ

C.S. Lewis takes a similar tack to explain the necessity of the Incarnation in Mere Christianity.

The reformers took on this view and the former, claiming that Christ’s death provided a double satisfaction: of God’s law and of God’s justice.

Again, this view has utility and Biblical support–but it has the same flaw as the second view. It suggests that somehow God is subservient to justice.

While the first view (discussed yesterday) was mostly wrong, these two views are mostly right. Yet none of the models that have been mentioned so far are satisfactory to Stott (or to me as Stott leads me along.) They’re missing something, some vital element.

What is satisfied at the cross if not the devil?
What is satisfied at the cross if not the law?
What is satisfied at the cross if not God’s honor and justice?

I’m getting long again, so this chapter will spill into another day. I promise you, though–only ONE more day! :-)

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Unsatisfactory satisfaction (Part 1)

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 5: Satisfaction for Sin

Satisfaction is a frankly theological term–and one it is hard to come to grips with. Stott writes:

“How, people ask, can we possibly believe that God needed some kind of ‘satisfaction’ before he was prepared to forgive, and that Jesus Christ provided it by enduring as our ‘substitute’ the punishment we sinners deserved? Are not such notions unworthy of the God of the biblical revelation, a hangover from primitive superstitions, indeed frankly immoral?”
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

Merriam-Webster’s entry for satisfaction gives me little satisfaction.

1 a : the payment through penance of the temporal punishment incurred by a sin b : reparation for sin that meets the demands of divine justice
2 a : fulfillment of a need or want b : the quality or state of being satisfied : contentment c : a source or means of enjoyment : gratification
3 a : compensation for a loss or injury : atonement, restitution b : the discharge of a legal obligation or claim c : vindication
4 : convinced assurance or certainty

Okay, so it mentions a theological meaning–but still, this seems difficult. Who’s doing the satisfying? Who or what is being satisfied? This definition doesn’t really cut it.

Stott describes four historical and contemporary views on satisfaction.

1. The cross satisfied the devil’s demands

This view suggests that humans, having sold themselves into slavery to the devil, are satan’s property, and can only be ransomed (bought back) if the devil’s conditions are met. I find a bit of this view in C.S. Lewis’ description of Aslan’s conversation with the White Witch regarding Edmund:

“‘Tell you?’ said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. ‘…You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and the for every treachery I have a right to a kill.’

‘And so,’ continued the witch, ‘that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.’

‘Come and take it then,’ said the Bull with the man’s head in a great bellowing voice.

‘Fool,’ said the Witch with a savage smile that was almost a snarl, ‘do you really think your master can rob me of my rights by mere force? He knows the Deep Magic better than that. He knows that unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.’

‘It is very true,’ said Aslan, ‘I do not deny it.'”
~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Here the Witch (the devil) stakes her claim on the lives of all traitors (sinners). Aslan (God) does not deny it. Instead, he dies in the traitor’s place to satisfy the witch’s demand for blood while satisfying his own love for Edmund the traitor.

There is certainly appeal to this view. It lets the devil be the “bad guy”, the one responsible for the particularly grotesque display that is the cross.

Yet there is a profound problem with this view as well. It gives the devil too much power. It gives him power over even God Himself. It makes God subject to satan’s demands.

No, the satisfaction obtained at the cross was not a satisfaction of the devil’s demands.

Since I’m getting a bit long-winded here and still have three more views to discuss, I’ll be stretching this chapter into a couple of posts. Check back tomorrow for the rest.

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

The Cross: Righteousness and Peace Have Kissed

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 4: The Problem of Forgiveness

In chapter 4, Stott addresses the question of why the cross was necessary to grant us forgiveness of sins. In essence, the question is:

Why can’t God forgive us without requiring a bloody, gruesome death of His Son?

This is a common question and one that is frequently brought up by Christians and non-Christians alike. The cross is detestable, disgusting, reprehensible. If God is love, how could He do such a thing? How could He cause the cruel death of His Son? Many people would like to believe in a universalist God–all Teddy Bear, no judgment. Others decry God as taking sadomasochist pleasure in torturing His Son.

Clearly, this is an important point to grapple with–and our conclusions regarding it have far-reaching implications for how we view God and humanity.

In order to understand the necessity of the cross for securing our forgiveness, we must become aware of the righteousness of God, the gravity of sin, and our culpability as sinners.

Why can God not “simply” forgive sinners?

God cannot “simply” forgive sinners because sin is a big deal. Sin is not simply a “mistake” or a “mess-up”. Sin is an act of rebellion against God. Sin is defiance not only against God’s law, but against God’s very nature.

God cannot “simply” forgive sinners because sinners are culpable for their sins. We are not automatons “forced” into rebellion against God by no choice of our own. True, our wills have been corrupted by original sin. But even still, we will to rebel against God. God did not create us sinners and then punish us for the sin He created us to do–no, we chose sin, chose rebellion, and willingly walk in it.

God cannot “simply” forgive sinners because God is righteous. He is completely pure, spotless, without blemish. He is far above and is the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, just and unjust. He is holy, separate, distinct from evil. He cannot embrace the impure, the spotted, the blemished, the wrong, the unjust, the profane, the evil–or else He will no longer be righteous and holy.

God’s holiness demands that He cannot merely “forget” our sins and embrace us. Our sins must be punished. What’s more, because we are sinners, not only our actions but our selves must be punished. Our sins–and we as sinners–must bear the wrath of God.

This is the beauty of the cross

In the cross, Jesus Christ bore our sins, became our sin–and fully bore the wrath of God in Himself. God’s wrath satisfied, He is now free to forgive without compromising His nature. In the cross, righteousness and peace have kissed.

“Mercy and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed.”
Psalm 85:10

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Why Did Christ Die?

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 3: Looking below the surface

I feel a bit guilty to be merely summarizing Stott’s main points in this chapter–yet his points are so good, I feel they require little comment from me. This is a fantastic intro to the significance of the cross, from Jesus’ perspective.

What is the significance of the cross?

1) Christ died for us.
2) Christ died to bring us to God
3) Christ died for our sins
4) Christ died our death

Jesus on His death

The Last Supper

1) Jesus affirmed the centrality of His death

  • The Last Supper, a commemoration of the death of Christ, was the ONLY commemorative act commanded by Jesus

2) Jesus affirmed the purpose of His death

  • Intended to create a new covenant
  • Intended to obtain forgiveness of sins

3) Jesus affirmed the necessity of personally appropriating His death

  • The disciples were commanded to eat and drink–to receive the work of Christ on their behalf


4) Jesus agonizes over the wrath of God soon to be poured out on Him

  • Jesus’ agony in the garden was not over the prospect of physical pain and death, but in contemplation of the impending “cup” of God’s wrath to be poured out on Him.

The Cross

5) Jesus experienced true separation from the Father on the cross

  • In His cry “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”, Jesus expresses true agony at the true, necessary, voluntary separation of Himself from the Father


When we look at the cross of Christ, we are forced to make three conclusions:
1) Our sin must be horrible
2) God’s love must be wonderful
3) Salvation must be free

“…We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
I Corinthians 1:23-24

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Who Killed Jesus?

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 2: Why Did Christ Die?

Who killed Jesus?

The Roman soldiers did. They were doing their job, carrying out the crucifixion. Jesus spoke of them when He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Who killed Jesus?

Pilate did. He handed Jesus over to be crucified, knowing full well that He was innocent. Pilate was more interested in keeping the peace and in preserving his position than in administering justice.

Who killed Jesus?

The Sanhedrin did when they falsely accused and convicted Him of blasphemy, when they falsely accused Him of sedition and delivered Him up to Pilate to be crucified. They killed Him out of envy.

Who killed Jesus?

Judas did when he betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for 30 pieces of silver, when he kissed Jesus’ cheek to direct the guards to Him.

Who killed Jesus?

The Jews did when they chanted for Pilate to “crucify Him”, when they said “Let His blood be upon our heads.”

Who killed Jesus?

We did.

“More important still, we ourselves are also guilty. If we were in their place, we would have done what they did. Indee, we have done it. For whenever we turn away from Christ, we ‘are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace’ (Heb. 6:6)….’Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ the old negro spiritual asks. And we must answer, ‘Yes, we were there.’ Not as spectators only but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining, and handing him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate. But our attempt will be as futile as him. For there is blood on our hands. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us…we have to see it as something done by us….Indeed, ‘only the man who is prepared to own his share in the guilt of the cross’, wrote Canon Peter Green, ‘may claim his share in its grace’.”
John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 59-60

Who killed Jesus?

No one did. He gave His life for us.

“I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.”
John 10:17-18

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)

Under the Shadow of the Cross

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 1: The Centrality of the Cross

The Shadow of Death

John Stott describes Holman Hunt’s painting “The Shadow of Death” in the following terms:

“She looks startled (or so it seems) at her son’s cross-like shadow on the wall….Though the idea [for the painting] is historically fictitious, it is also theologically true. From Jesus’ youth, indeed even from his birth, the cross cast its shadow ahead of him. His death was central to his mission.”

How church history has viewed the cross:

Church history affirms the centrality of the cross to the Christian faith–despite (or perhaps because of) its incredibly negative connotations and propensity to be ridiculed.

How Jesus viewed the cross:

Jesus made no secret that He would suffer, die, and rise again. Throughout His ministry, He speaks of His hour. This hour did not come in teaching or in working miracles. Rather, it was in His death that His hour had come.

“‘The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified….Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.'”
John 12:23, 27-28

How the apostles viewed the cross:

While the sermons of Acts do not explicitly detail the theological implications of the cross, they do all mention the cross and many allude to its implications by using the term “hung on a tree” to describe crucifixion. This phrase directs the hearer to Deuteronomy 21:22-23, which proclaims a curse on all who are hung on a tree–alluding to the substitutionary nature of the cross (He became a curse for us, Galatians 3:13). Additionally, the apostles’ emphasis on the resurrection is an implicit reference to the cross, since the resurrection is the reversal of a prior sentence of death.

In the epistles, the doctrine of the cross is central to the writers’ messages. Paul, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews all go to great length to describe the implications of the cross and its centrality to the Christian life. In the Revelation, Jesus’ primary identity is as the Lamb of God–not a reference primarily to His humility but to His death as a lamb slain for the sins of the world.


The Cross is central to the Christian faith and is the biggest distinguisher between believers and unbelievers.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
I Corinthians 1:18

“In the Christian theology of history, the death of Christ is the central point of history; here all the roads of the past converge; hence all the roads of the future diverge.”
~Stephen Neil

(See more notes on The Cross of Christ here.)