Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (God the Son: Incarnate Christ)




Arrest and Trials

Death and Atonement

Resurrection and Ascension



Jesus was the God-man—truly and fully God as well as truly and fully human. In his incarnation he manifested outwardly his internal divine essence (Gk. morphē, “form,” Phil. 2:6). Christ possessed the divine glory (John 17:5; see Isa. 42:8). Thus, the writer of Hebrews most emphatically proclaims that Christ was the exact representation of the Deity: “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3; see Col. 1:15). As God, he is the worthy recipient of worship: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him’ ” (Heb. 1:6; see Matt. 2:2; 14:33; Phil. 2:10–11). Doxologies in the New Testament even ascribe glory to Christ in a fashion reminiscent of the Old Testament doxology in 1 Chronicles 29:10–11:

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. (1 Chron. 29:10–11)

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20–21)

… that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 4:11)

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Pet. 3:18)

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9–10)

In other words, Christ ought to be worshiped with worship equal to the worship given to the God of the Old Testament. The second person of the Trinity was not only “with God” at creation, he was himself God (John 1:1–3). By creating the universe, the second person accomplished a work that only God could accomplish (note that the Hebrew word bara’, “create,” only takes God as its subject).

Prayer to Jesus Christ constitutes yet another evidence for his deity. Jesus instructed his disciples to pray to him (John 14:14; 15:16; 16:23–24). Acts 1:24–25 records that the disciples prayed to Christ for guidance in choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot. Stephen voiced two prayerful requests to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59–60). In Damascus, Ananias instructed Saul to be baptized and to call on the name of Jesus (Acts 22:16). The apostle Paul later wrote that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13; see 1 Cor. 1:2). Paul also appealed to Christ to remove the “messenger of Satan” from him (2 Cor. 12:7–8). Indeed, the New Testament closes with a prayer to Christ: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).

Worship includes more than just prayer; it also involves praise. Ephesians 5:18–20 addresses the matter of speaking to “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). The context distinguishes “God the Father” from “our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20; see also 5:21), making Christ the primary referent of “Lord.” The song of praise in Revelation 5:9–10 also focuses on the Lord Jesus, who paid the ransom price by his own blood. Two biblical hymns in the early church voice praise to Jesus for who he is and what he has accomplished: Philippians 2:6–11 and 1 Timothy 3:16. These creedal hymns concentrate on the doctrine of Christology. Even the Old Testament contains Christological hymns, in the form of messianic psalms like Psalms 2; 22; 24; 45; 72; and 110. Thus, even pre-Christian Jews sang praise to and about the Messiah in the ancient Psalter, the hymnbook of Israel.

One core concept associated with the believer’s recognition of deity consists of what the Scripture terms “the fear of the Lord” (2 Chron. 19:9; Ps. 111:10; see Deut. 6:2; 8:6; 10:12). Jesus Christ is also the object of such fear (Col. 3:22–24; see Eph. 5:21, “out of reverence for Christ”; NASB: “in the fear of Christ”), and that godly fear forms a key section of “the song of the Lamb” (Rev. 15:3):

Who will not fear, O Lord,

and glorify your name?

For you alone are holy.

All the nations will come

and worship you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed. (Rev. 15:4)

The second person of the Godhead also fully exhibits and exercises all the divine characteristics and attributes of God. Table 4.4 provides examples of Jesus Christ’s extensive likeness to God.

According to the New Testament writers, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; see 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb. 1:3). Therefore, anyone who saw Christ could be said to have seen the Father (John 12:45; 14:7–10). In other words, the attributes and characteristics of the Father reside also in the person of his Son.

Table 4.4 Jesus’s Divine Likeness

Divine Characteristics or Attributes  Biblical References  
Eternality  Mic. 5:2; John 1:1; 8:58; Col. 1:17  
Glory  Matt. 16:27; 24:30; Luke 9:32; John 17:5  
Grace  John 1:14, 16–17; Romans 1:7; 16:20  
Holiness  Luke 4:34; John 6:69; Heb. 7:26  
Immutability  Heb. 1:10–12 (cf. Ps. 102:25–27); 13:8  
Life  John 1:4; 5:21; 11:25; 14:6; Acts 3:15; Rev. 1:18  
Love  Mark 10:21; John 11:3, 5; 14:21, 31; 15:9–11  
Mercy  Mark 5:19; 1 Tim. 1:2; Heb. 2:17  
Omnipotence  1 Cor. 1:23–24; Heb. 1:2–3  
Omnipresence  Matt. 18:20; Eph. 4:10  
Omniscience  John 1:47–49; 21:17; Acts 1:24; 1 Cor. 4:5  
Righteousness  Acts 3:14; 7:52; 22:14; 2 Pet. 1:1  
Self-existence (aseity)  John 1:1–3; Col. 1:16–17; Rev. 1:8, 17–18  
Sovereignty  Eph. 1:21; Col. 2:10; 1 Pet. 3:22  
Truth  John 1:14, 17; 14:6; Eph. 4:21  

The Bible mentions many different titles for the Son of God. However, many on James Large’s list, which claims to identify 280 titles and symbols of Christ in the Bible, are mere symbols and are sometimes subjective, typological, or figurative (e.g., Aaron as a human picture of high priestly functions fulfilled in Christ, or “portion” as a reference to the believer inheriting Christ). For the purpose of a Christology, a more theological listing might be divided by a more careful selection of names referring to Jesus’s deity and names referring to his humanity. Therefore, titles most likely related to his deity are listed here, while titles appropriately associated with his humanity will be listed under that discussion below (p. 263).

•     “Commander of the Lord’s army” (Josh. 5:14–15)

•     “Wonderful” (Judg. 13:18)

•     “The Lord of hosts [or the armies]” (Ps. 24:10; Isa. 6:3, 5 with John 12:41; Isa. 24:23; James 5:4)

•     “The Lord,” or adonai (Ps. 110:1 with Matt. 22:41–45; Rom. 10:9–10; Phil. 2:9–11)

•     “Wisdom” / “Wisdom of God” (Proverbs 8; Luke 11:49; 1 Cor. 1:24)

•     “Immanuel,” or “God with us” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23)

•     “Everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6)

•     “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6)

•     “Wonderful Counselor” (Isa. 9:6)

•     “the Lord,” or Yahweh (Isa. 40:3 with Mark 1:3; Joel 2:32 with Rom. 10:13)

•     “Creator” (of Israel, Isa. 43:15; of souls, 1 Pet. 4:19; and of all things, with this title implied, John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2)

•     “The arm of the Lord” (Isa. 53:1)

•     “The breaker” (Mic. 2:13 NASB)

•     “The angel [messenger] of the Lord” (see Zech. 1:11–21, where 1:20 identifies the angel as Yahweh while 1:12–13 shows him praying to Yahweh as a distinct person)

•     “The bridegroom” (Matt. 9:15)

•     “The Son of God” (Mark 1:1; John 3:18; 5:25; Rom. 1:4; Eph. 4:13; Rev. 2:18)

•     “The Holy One” (Mark 1:24; John 6:69; Acts 3:14; Rev. 3:7)

•     “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32)

•     “The Word” (John 1:1)

•     “The only begotten” (monogenēs = unique one; John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9 NASB)

•     “I am” (John 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 11; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1; cf. “I am,” Ex. 3:13–14)

•     “The shepherd” (John 10:14; 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:4; see Ps. 23:1)

•     “The life” (John 14:6)

•     “The truth” (John 14:6)

•     “The way” (John 14:6)

•     “God” (John 20:28; Rom. 9:5)

•     “The Author of life” (Acts 3:15)

•     “The power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24)

•     “The Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8)

•     “The head of the church” (Eph. 4:15; 5:23)

•     “The blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Tim. 6:15)

•     “King of kings” (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16; see Dan. 4:37)

•     “Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16)

•     “Savior” (Titus 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1)

•     “The founder of their salvation” (Heb. 2:10)

•     “The source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9)

•     “The founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2)

•     “The Almighty” (Rev. 1:8)

•     “The Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8)

•     “The Lord God” (Rev. 1:8)

•     “The first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 2:8)

•     “The true one” (Rev. 3:7)

•     “Faithful and True” (Rev. 19:11)

•     “The beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6)


In his incarnation, Christ voluntarily yielded the independent exercise of his divine attributes to the will of his heavenly Father. The biblical basis for this fact is found in Philippians 2:5–7:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Drawing from the Greek word for “emptied himself,” kenoō, theologians have chosen to refer to this concept as the “kenosis” or “emptying.” The apostle Paul refers to a voluntary act involving the incarnation whereby the Son of God took on himself the form of a slave (Gk. doulos). The clause “though he was in the form of God” (Phil. 2:6) speaks about Christ’s preexistent state, as well as about his humiliation.

The declaration that Christ “was in the form [Gk. morphē] of God” (Phil. 2:6) must be understood as a reference to the reality of Christ’s deity, just as “taking the form [morphē] of a slave” (Phil. 2:7, author’s trans.) speaks about the reality of his slavery. “Form” (morphē) does not mean that Christ became a slave only in appearance, nor that he was God merely in external appearance. Paul does not use the usual Greek word for “being” here. Instead, the apostle employs another term that stresses the essence of a person’s nature—his continuous state or condition. He also uses the Greek word for “form” that specifically denotes the essential, unchanging character of something—what it is in and of itself. The mind of Christ “is revealed in two sublime self-renunciatory acts, the one described as a kenōsis, the other as a tapeinōsis. In the former He ‘emptied himself,’ stooping from God to humanity; in the latter He ‘humbled himself,’ stooping from humanity to death.”

Of what did the preincarnate Son empty himself at his incarnation? That question has been answered in several unfortunate ways by what has come to be known as kenotic theology. Named for the “emptying” spoken of in the kenōsis, kenotic theologians have misunderstood this concept and have indicated that Christ emptied himself of some aspect of his deity during his incarnation. In some forms, this erroneous teaching claims that Christ retained what they call his essential attributes of deity (e.g., holiness, grace) but surrendered what they call his relative attributes (e.g., omniscience, immutability).

However, it is by definition impossible for the eternal, immutable God to cease to exist as God. This fact concerning the Lord Jesus is confirmed throughout the New Testament. Even in his state of humiliation, the Lord Jesus could say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Far from a metaphorical expression of unity in purpose or plan, this was a metaphysical statement of the Son’s shared essence with the Father. The Jews clearly understood this, for their reaction was to stone Jesus for blasphemy: “You, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33). Even as man, he could legitimately claim that to see him was to see the Father (John 14:9), declare that he had authority over all flesh (John 17:2), and receive worship from his disciples (John 20:28). On the Mount of Transfiguration, the incarnate Son’s deity was revealed visibly, as he peeled back the veil of his humanity, as it were, and allowed the expression of his own divine essence to shine forth (Matt. 17:2; see “Transfiguration” [p. 276]). It is plain, then, that the Son did not empty himself of his deity or his divine attributes in his incarnation.

The question remains, then, of what did he empty himself? Yet this question itself seems to misunderstand Paul’s language in Philippians 2. While the verb kenoō does mean “to empty,” it is used exclusively in a metaphorical sense in the New Testament. It never means “to pour out,” as if Jesus were pouring his divine attributes out of himself. If that were Paul’s intent, he would have used the word ekcheō (e.g., Luke 22:20; John 2:15; Titus 3:6). Instead, kenoō means “to make void,” “to nullify,” or “to make of no effect.” Paul employs the term in this sense in Romans 4:14, where he says, “For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void [kekenōtai] and the promise is nullified” (NASB). Yet one does not ask, of what has faith been emptied? Rather, Paul intends to say that if righteousness could come by the law, faith would be nullified—it would come to naught. Similarly, it is the wrong question to ask, of what did Christ empty himself? Christ himself is the object of this emptying; he nullified himself. As the King James Version translates it, he “made himself of no reputation” (Phil. 2:7).

The rest of the verse tells how Christ nullified himself in his incarnation: “by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). Christ made himself of no reputation precisely by taking on a human nature. He emptied himself not by pouring out portions of his deity but by adding to himself full and true humanity. His was an emptying by addition, not by subtraction. If he actually surrendered or gave up his divine attributes, then it might suggest that he ceased to be God—but that would result in something at odds with how the Bible identifies him as being fully and truly God (see “Deity” [p. 255]). Yet even in taking on human nature, the Son of God fully possessed his divine nature, attributes, and prerogatives.

What, then, was his humiliation? For the sake of becoming a merciful and faithful high priest, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect (Heb. 2:17). Therefore, while the Son of God fully possessed his divine nature, attributes, and prerogatives, he did not fully express them. They were veiled. At times he did express them, such as when he read people’s minds (Matt. 9:4) and worked divine miracles (e.g., Luke 5:3–10). But the Master willingly submitted himself to the life of a slave (Phil. 2:7; cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). He surrendered the preincarnate glories from which he came. He left the worship of saints and angels to be despised and rejected by men (Isa. 53:3), submitting himself to misunderstanding, denials, unbelief, false accusations, and every sort of reviling and persecution. As God the Son, he had every right to exercise his divine prerogatives at will. Yet as the suffering servant of Yahweh, he surrendered himself to the will of the Father in everything (John 5:19, 30). Thus, while he knew Nathanael without having met him (John 1:47) and indeed knew all men (John 2:25), in the humility of his incarnation he did not know the hour of his return (Matt. 24:36). His internal divine glory was still present, though temporarily veiled by him being in the form of a servant. Although he was truly human, he also remained fully divine.

No conceptualization of the kenosis can be consistent with Scripture if that concept makes it impossible for Christ to assert “equality with God” (Phil. 2:6). Though equal with God, the Son of God submitted voluntarily to humanity and death as One who fully possessed the sovereign, free, holy, and loving will to be limited by his choice to obey the Father for the purpose of the program of redemption and the glory of the Godhead.


The announcement of the victorious “offspring” (or seed) of the woman in Genesis 3:15 implies that this individual will not be the offspring of a man (see Gal. 4:4). Thus, the very first messianic prophecy directs attention to the woman, unlike the genealogy of Genesis 5, which lists only fathers. By omitting any relationship to Adam, God suggests that the promised offspring will not partake of Adam’s sin. As the first Adam was fathered by God (see Luke 3:38, “Adam, the son of God”), so the second Adam, Jesus Christ, was fathered by God, not by a human male (Matt. 1:18–20). Matthew emphasizes this juxtaposition of the first Adam with the second Adam in the way he introduces his Gospel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ …” (Matt. 1:1). This is the same phraseology found only elsewhere in Genesis 5:1: “This is the book of the generations [or, genealogy] of Adam.” In striking fashion, this phraseology introduces

       1.    a new book of revelation—the Gospel of Matthew as the opening book of the New Testament;

       2.    a new message—the good news concerning Jesus the Messiah and Savior who is “God with us” (Immanuel; Matt. 1:1, 23);

       3.    a new creation—a male child born to a virgin (Matt. 1:18–23); and

       4.    a new beginning—a new genesis (the Greek word for “birth” in Matt. 1:18).

In the reign of King Ahaz, king of Judah, the prophet Isaiah received a revelation from God to pass on to the king: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). According to Matthew 1:22–23, that prophecy was fulfilled at the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Some object to this interpretation, insisting on the identification of the “virgin” as Isaiah’s wife or another young woman of that time. However, the context itself indicates the accuracy of God’s own New Testament commentary:

       1.    In the immediate context, Isaiah 1–12 prophesies divine judgment against Israel and eventual peace, which the Messiah will bring on the nation and the whole world.

       2.    Isaiah does not provide any specific contemporary fulfillment—he leaves the “virgin” unidentified.

       3.    Since Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign for himself and his time (Isa. 7:10–12), God announces a sign for the “house of David,” one not limited to Ahaz or his time (Isa. 7:13–14).

       4.    The word “virgin” (Heb. ‘almah) refers to a young woman who has not had intimate relations with a man (see Gen. 24:43; Ex. 2:8; Song 1:3). The suggestion that betulah is the correct Hebrew word for “virgin” seems to be contradicted by the use of the term in Genesis 24:16, which adds “whom no man had known” (Gen. 24:16) in order to make betulah (“maiden”) refer to a virgin. The term ‘almah requires no such qualification. The Septuagint, the ancient Jewish translation of the Old Testament into Greek, translates the Hebrew term with parthenos, the same word appearing in the New Testament at Matthew 1:23.

What is significant about the doctrine of the virgin conception and birth of Jesus? First of all, the integrity of the Gospel record concerning Jesus rests heavily on the truth of the virgin birth. If Matthew and Luke are undependable in their accounts of Mary’s pregnancy occurring without male human involvement, then their entire histories of Jesus become suspect. Scientists might claim that a virgin conception is impossible, but the Gospel evidence remains authentic and credible in the light of the consistent testimony of the New Testament writers concerning the sinless human nature of Jesus. In other words, falsehood regarding the biblical claim to the virgin birth severely compromises the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. In addition, since Scripture’s ultimate author is God himself, that compromise constitutes an attack on the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God.

Second, the virgin birth allows for the preexistence of the divine person and nature. The eternal Son of God existed before the miraculous conception in Mary’s womb. The normal human process of conception would have produced a second person, not just a human body and nature. Jesus, as the God-man, is but one person with two natures. Isaiah said it so well: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (Isa. 9:6). The Son of God already existed—as a divine person. An addition of a second personhood to Jesus would necessitate the existence of four persons in the Godhead, rather than preserving the three. And that fourth person, though a sinless human being, would be inferior to the other three persons by the finitude of his humanity. Jesus’s humanity is not eternal—it had a beginning. (See “Humanity” [p. 263] for further discussion of the union of both divine and human natures in the person of Jesus.)

Third, without a virgin conception of Jesus, there can be no guarantee of his sinlessness. The descendants of Adam are sinners because Adam sinned; the descendants of Adam die (Rom. 3:23; 5:12–19; 6:23; see Ps. 51:5). Death can occur before an infant knows the difference between right and wrong and before that little one is even capable of understanding the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. Infant death necessitates the doctrine of original sin, for there is no death apart from sin. The sinless Jesus can only experience the death of his human body by God placing on him all of the elect’s sin and guilt (2 Cor. 5:21).

Fourth, the elimination of the virgin birth would jeopardize the entirety of Jesus’s life and ministry and the attendant doctrines. These include his being both truly God and truly man, his sinless life, his miraculous deeds, his truth-filled teaching, his voluntary sacrifice as a substitute for sinners, his bodily resurrection, his bodily ascension, and his future return. If any single doctrine within the biblical teaching concerning Jesus failed, it would lead one to question everything concerning him in the New Testament record.

Lastly, the virgin conception/birth of Jesus ought to be part of the Christian’s confession of faith. Jesus’s birth gave him a body of flesh. The spirit of antichrist denies that Jesus came in flesh (1 John 4:1–3; 2 John 7). The believer’s confession states that Jesus took on himself flesh and blood (Heb. 2:14) in order to put away sin (1 John 3:5). That confession appears in the first line of the early Christian hymn cited by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:16: “He was manifested in the flesh.”


The Bible mentions many different titles for Jesus in his humanity. Titles related to his deity are listed above (see under “Deity” [p. 255]). The names provide insight into the person of Jesus, the work of Jesus, and the way that people identify him and relate to him.

•     The “offspring” or seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15; Gal. 4:4)

•     “Shiloh” (Gen. 49:10 ESV mg.)

•     “Redeemer” (Job 19:25–27; Gal. 3:13)

•     “Messiah” or “Anointed” (Heb.) and “Christ” (Gk.) (Ps. 2:2; John 1:41; 4:25; Acts 18:28)

•     “The branch” (Isa. 4:2; Jer. 23:5; 33:15; Zech. 3:8; 6:12)

•     “Servant” (Isa. 52:13; Acts 4:27)

•     “The desire of all nations” (Hag. 2:7 KJV)

•     “The sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2)

•     “Jesus” (Matt. 1:21)

•     “A Nazarene” (Matt. 2:23)

•     “Son of David” (Matt. 12:23; 21:9; Mark 12:35–37; Rom. 1:1–4)

•     “Son of Man” (Mark 2:10; John 12:34; Acts 7:56; Rev. 1:13; see Dan. 7:13)

•     “Chosen One” (Luke 9:35; cf. Matt. 12:18; 1 Pet. 1:20)

•     “The Lamb of God” / “the Lamb” (John 1:29; Rev. 5:6, 8, 12, 13)

•     “Teacher” (John 3:2)

•     “Helper” (John 14:16, by implication)

•     “Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38; 3:6)

•     “Leader” (Acts 5:31)

•     “The firstborn,” or preeminent one (Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:6)

•     “The last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45–49; cf. Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:21–22)

•     “The cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:4)

•     “Mediator” (1 Tim. 2:5–6)

•     “Brother” (Heb. 2:11–12, by implication)

•     “Apostle” (Heb. 3:1)

•     “High priest” (Heb. 3:1)

•     “Lawgiver and judge” (James 4:12; see Matt. 28:18)

•     “The morning star” (2 Pet. 1:19)

•     “Advocate” (1 John 2:1)

•     “The faithful witness” (Rev. 1:5; 3:14)

•     “The Amen” (Rev. 3:14)

•     “The beginning of God’s creation” (Rev. 3:14)

•     “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev. 5:5)

•     “The Root of David” (Rev. 5:5)

•     “The bright morning star” (Rev. 22:16)

The Hypostatic Union. In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea affirmed Scripture’s revelation of Jesus being truly God. Then in AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon agreed that Jesus was at the same time human and divine, involving a “hypostatic union” of the two natures without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation. The Apostles’ Creed (fifth century AD) thus states, “I believe in … Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.” In other words, the hypostatic union consists of the two natures of Christ in one theanthropic (God-man) person. This union maintains Christ’s deity undiminished and his humanity unexalted.

The hypostatic union is distinct from the virgin birth and from the incarnation. The incarnation refers to the whole concept of God manifesting himself in human flesh. The virgin birth constituted the means by which the incarnation was accomplished. As Charles Feinberg once explained, “The hypostatic union is that which was effected and brought into being by the incarnation.” The hypostatic union differs from theophanies in that there were multiple, temporary theophanies, while the existence of two natures in Christ since his incarnation is eternal. He is now and forever the God-man.

While the human nature that the Son of God received in his incarnation allows him to experience humanity, he does not exist as two persons. He is but one person with two natures—the divine and the human. Christ’s deity effects the individualization (involving character and personality) of his human nature. God the Father prepared Christ’s physical human body (Heb. 10:5–7; see Ps. 40:6–8) for the incarnation so that the Son of God might do the will of the Father. Each nature possesses its own will. In John 17:24, Christ’s divine will appears in his Trinitarian relationship to the Father before the foundation of the world. But in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus conforms his human will to the Father’s will (Matt. 26:39). This duality within the one person can be seen also in the early youth of Jesus when he astounded the teachers in the temple with his wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures as he spoke from his divine nature but then submitted his human will to his parents’ wishes (Luke 2:47, 51–52). This was a matter not of dueling personalities but of two distinct yet perfect natures.

Humanness involves undergoing, not just encountering, what mankind commonly experiences. From the start of his incarnate life until the end of his earthly journey, Jesus experienced birth (Matt. 2:1), growth (Luke 2:40), exhaustion (John 4:6), sleep (Mark 4:38), hunger (Matt. 4:2; 21:18), thirst (John 4:7; 19:28), anger (Mark 3:5), sorrow (Matt. 26:37), weeping (Luke 19:41; John 11:35), compassion (Matt. 9:36), love (Mark 10:21; John 11:3, 5, 36), joy (Luke 10:21; John 15:11), temptation (Matt. 4:1; Heb. 4:15), prayer (Matt. 14:23; Heb. 5:7), suffering (Matt. 16:21; Luke 22:44; Heb. 2:18), and death (Mark 15:37–39; Luke 23:44–46; John 12:24, 33; Rom. 5:6, 8; Phil. 2:8). He also experienced first what all humans will eventually experience: resurrection (Matt. 17:9; John 2:22; 21:14; Acts 3:15; 1 Cor. 15:20). Jesus was, indeed, truly and completely human—as well as truly and completely God (see “Deity” [p. 255] above).

The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews has most succinctly and beautifully written of the necessity for Christ’s humanity and the great blessing accruing to mankind from his humanity: “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:17–18). He is “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God” (Acts 2:22). He is the “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Yes, “Behold, the man!” (John 19:5).

About this marvelous mystery of the hypostatic union of the two natures of Christ, John Walvoord observes that “while the attributes of one nature are never attributed to the other, the attributes of both natures are properly attributed to His person.” This fact requires that readers of Scripture rightly discern the so-called communication of properties (Lat. communicatio idiomatum) in the biblical record in order to rightly understand who Jesus is and what he has accomplished. That is, whatever can be said of one of Christ’s natures can be rightly said of Christ as a whole person. For example, Paul’s comment in Acts 20:28 does not mean that the divine nature has blood, for God is spirit (cf. John 4:24). But because “blood” is a property of Christ’s human nature and “God” is a property of his divine nature, Paul can say of Jesus that God purchased the church with his own blood. The properties of both natures may be predicated of the one person of Christ. Walvoord helpfully provides seven classifications, summarized below, by which to distinguish between biblical references to the natures and person of Christ:

       1.    Biblical references to Christ’s whole person, in which both natures are essential:

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isa. 9:6–7)

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. (Heb. 4:14)

       2.    References to the whole person, but the attributes are true of his deity:

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 2:24–25)

No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (John 3:13)

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)

       3.    References to the whole person, but the attributes are true of his humanity:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (Matt. 4:1–2)

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)

Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. (John 4:6)

       4.    Apparent contradiction in references describing the whole person according to an attribute of his divine nature but predicated of his human nature:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God [divine attribute], which he obtained with his own blood [human attribute]. (Acts 20:28) When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one [divine attribute]. I died [human attribute], and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev. 1:17–18)

       5.    Apparent contradiction in references describing the whole person according to an attribute of his human nature but predicated of his deity:

Then what if you were to see the Son of Man [human attribute] ascending to where he was before [divine attribute]? (John 6:62)

To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh [human attribute], is the Christ, who is God over all [divine attribute], blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 9:5)

       6.    References describing the whole person according to his deity but predicated of both natures:

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. (John 6:11)

But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?” (John 6:61)

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:3–4)

       7.    References describing the whole person according to his humanity but predicated of both natures:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; God cannot leave or abandon God. In his whole person Jesus is on the cross, yet the Father temporarily abandons him according to his humanity. As the God-man, Jesus dies with respect to his humanity, for the divine nature cannot die.)

And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:27)

Thus, a biblical theology of the person and natures of Christ must rest on a careful reading of the Scriptures coupled with a recognition of our limited understanding. The discerning reader will pay close attention to each detail of the biblical text so as to rightly interpret it regarding the theological understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, is doing, and will do.

Christ’s Limited Knowledge. Mark 13:32 presents readers with an issue regarding Christ’s self-limited knowledge: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus spoke these words during the time of his incarnation (also referred to as his humiliation). After his ressurection, Acts 1:6–7 seems to indicate that Jesus knew the time of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel but would not reveal it at that time to his disciples. The limitation of Christ’s knowledge on the time of the restoration does not mean that his declarations concerning the historicity of Old Testament events or the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch should also be reconsidered. After all, he fully trusted the Old Testament as God’s Word, and his humanity could have derived all such information directly from the Scriptures. Nevertheless, even during the incarnation, as God the Son, Jesus remained omniscient (cf. John 16:30). His limited knowledge in this instance is a result of his voluntary surrender of the independent use of his divine attributes (see “Kenosis” [p. 258]).


Erroneous concepts of Jesus arise out of a careless and undiscerning reading of the Bible. Therefore, through such carelessness, compounded by man’s fallen nature and the enmity of unbelievers, the person of Christ has come under attack from the very start. In the early church, error concerning the nature and person of Christ arose even in the first century and challenged the Christological orthodoxy of Bible believers. As with counterfeit currency, the best strategy for identifying falsehood comes through a focus on the truth. Studying what the Scriptures say about Jesus Christ exposes the error of those who seek to deny biblical truths or to offer up a counterfeit Christ. A brief consideration of the major Christological heresies merits attention (table 4.5 [p. 272] presents a summary of these heresies).

Ebionism. One of the earliest errors to infect the church insisted on the humanity of Christ to the exclusion of his deity because its proponents denied the preexistence of Christ—a view influenced by first-century Jewish teachings. This heresy became known as Ebionism. Jesus, to the Ebionites, was a great man, a prophet of God, one who was endowed with the Spirit of God and exalted to kingship after his death. Some of the Ebionites accepted Jesus’s miraculous conception, but others rejected it.

By the fifth century this viewpoint had left the church. Some adherents probably returned to Judaism, while others capitulated to the biblical viewpoint (or perhaps to another erroneous view popular at the time) and remained in the church. Although the church left this view behind, the Islamic view of Jesus is essentially that of Ebionism, as Heick observes: “The religious syncretism evident in this movement was of great historical significance in that it contributed to the origin and rise of Mohammedanism as the third great monotheistic religion of the world.”

Gnosticism. As a movement with roots preceding the New Testament church, Gnosticism gradually assimilated Christian elements. It consisted of a second-century eclectic cult combining Greek philosophy, Persian dualism, Judaistic thought, elements of oriental mystery religions, and Christianity. Gnosticism’s main tenet echoed Plato’s concept of matter being evil and spirit being good. Its proponents believed that a series of emanations had come from God. These emanations were termed eons, and each one became progressively more matter and less spirit—thus, more evil and less good. Since the Yahweh of the Old Testament was the creator of all things (just another eon), Gnosticism labeled him Demiurge. The Demiurge was a heavenly being who was subordinate to another, greater eon, the Supreme Being. As the creator and the controller of the physical world, the Demiurge was depicted by the Gnostics as antagonistic to that which is spiritual. In Gnostic thought, Christ was either a phantom seeming to appear in a body (see “Docetism” below), or an eon that united with Jesus sometime between his baptism and death on the cross. The Gnostic concept of salvation consisted of a special gnosis (or knowledge) given through Christ to only the elite through an intellectual process.

Adoptionism/Modalism. Some in the early church accepted a view holding that God adopted (thus the term Adoptionism) the man Jesus as his son at some point following his birth—either at his baptism or his resurrection. Artemon was often associated with this heresy, but little is known about him. Paul of Samosata (third century AD) and Theodotus the Cobbler (fl. ca. AD 190) propagated the viewpoint of the Adoptionists. The Adoptionists can be considered one of the Monarchianist groups, those who denied the Trinity and referred to one God as one ruler or monarch. Monarchianism emphasized the oneness of God—a Unitarian view. Proponents understood the three persons of the Godhead to be merely three different modes of the one God’s existence and work. Since they did not believe the Father and the Son to be distinct persons, they spoke of Patripassianism—the notion that God the Father died on the cross of Calvary. Sabellius became an advocate of the Modalist movement in the early third century, and though he was excommunicated in AD 217, the movement arising out of his leadership became known as Sabellianism.

Docetism. The Docetists derive their name from the Greek term dokeō, meaning “seem” or “appear.” This group took the opposite extreme of the Adoptionists and insisted on the deity of Christ while rejecting his humanity. To the Docetists, material existence is inherently evil—the view proposed by Plato. Therefore, it was impossible for the pure and holy Son of God to take on himself sinful flesh. They believed that the Son of God appeared on earth as an illusion, a kind of theophany. Jesus had no human body and could not suffer or die a real death. Valentinus (fl. ca. AD 136–ca. 165) became a leading personality in this heretical movement. Irenaeus (ca. AD 120–202) opposed Valentinus, writing a five-volume work against the errors of the Docetists. Marcion (ca. AD 85–ca. 160) was another famous member of the Docetist sect, and Tertullian (ca. AD 160–ca. 220) took up the pen to do battle with Marcion’s teachings (AD 207–208). The church father Ignatius (ca. AD 50–ca. 110), bishop of Antioch, insisted on the use of “really” and “truly” as descriptions of the divine and human natures of Christ in contradistinction to the Docetists’ use of “apparently” to refer to Christ’s humanity.

Arianism. The next heresy to assail the person and work of Christ arose out of the teachings of Arius (AD 250–336), an elder in the church at Alexandria, Egypt. He and his followers assumed that the Son’s temporary submission to the will of the Father in the program of redemption involved an eternal inequality between the Father and the Son. Arians viewed Christ as merely a created being, although he was the first and most supreme of all creatures. Christ was not of the same substance as God but of a similar substance. Thus, they placed Christ in a realm somewhere between God and man as a creature to be worshiped because of the authority God had delegated to him.

The Councils of Nicaea (AD 325) and Constantinople (AD 381) responded to this heresy. The debate centered on the presence or absence of an iota (“i”) in a single Greek word: homoiousia (“similar substance”) or homoousia (“same substance”). The difference boiled down to whether or not Christ was truly God, and the council declared its conviction from Scripture that Christ was truly and completely God and man. Athanasius (AD 295–373), who later became bishop of Alexandria, rose in defense of the biblical testimony concerning the true deity of Jesus Christ. The councils resulted in the affirmation that Christ was “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

Apollinarianism. The next error to arise in the early church affirmed the true deity of Christ but denied his full humanity. The Apollinarians—named for Apollinaris (ca. AD 315–ca. 392), bishop of Laodicea—believed that Christ possessed a real body and an immortal sensitive soul, but they denied to him a truly human mind (or rational soul). In fact, they believed that Christ was God masquerading in human flesh. Therefore, they attributed all the human weaknesses of Jesus to his deity—such things as ignorance, suffering, obedience, and worship. In reality, Apollinaris had also been infected by the dualism of Plato, who taught that the spirit is good but the body is bad. Apollinaris held that Christ, if God, could not have a human will.

The Council of Constantinople condemned Apollinarian teachings as heretical in AD 381, and the Council of Chalcedon did likewise in AD 451. Those in the early church who responded to Apollinaris pointed out that he could not explain the struggle between the divine will and the human will of Jesus in a text like Luke 22:42. Also, since sin affects the body, will, and mind, a complete redemptive work by Jesus required that his mind be involved in redeeming the believer’s mind. Certainly, imagining a truly human being without a mind would be inconceivable.

Nestorianism. A significant division occurred in the early church due to the false teachings of Nestorius of Constantinople (ca. AD 381–ca. 451). He attributed a dual personality to Christ—two persons and two natures, rather than one person and two natures. Nestorius correctly understood that Mary did not conceive the divine nature of Christ, yet he, in effect, proposed that Jesus was a deified man. He compared Jesus’s relationship to the Father as basically the same as a believer’s relationship to Christ.

Some historians argue that Nestorius received a bad reputation from those who misunderstood his view that the impassibility of the Logos and the full humanity of Jesus must be preserved. Even Martin Luther defended Nestorius against the charge that he taught that Christ should be divided into two persons or hypostases. Nichols explains that Nestorius “so stressed the humanity and divinity of Christ that he veered very near to saying that the two natures are so distinct in Christ that Christ is a divided person, a human person and divine person, that Christ is two ‘he’s’ and not merely two natures.”28 After his condemnation in the councils held at both Ephesus (AD 431) and Chalcedon (AD 451), Nestorius insisted that he had been misunderstood and that he had always adhered to Christ existing in two natures and one person. Thus, Nestorius might not have adhered to the erroneous doctrinal system that became known as Nestorianism. Yet he might have overemphasized Christ’s two natures in such a fashion as to downplay Christ’s unity in one person, thereby rightly drawing fire from Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, as well as the rebuke of the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. It is clear that believers were demanding precise doctrines regarding the Lord Jesus Christ.

Eutychianism. The view of Apollinarianism led to another controversy called Monophysitism (belief in “one nature”) or Eutychianism, referring to its originator, Eutyches of Constantinople (ca. AD 378–ca. 454). Eutyches held that the deity and humanity of Christ were devoid of distinction—the two were fused together into a third nature that was neither God nor man but something in between. Since Jesus possessed only one life, one mind, and one will, he must have possessed a single nature in a single person. The variation of Eutychianism that focused on the one will became known as Monotheletism. The Council of Chalcedon condemned Eutychianism in AD 451, and the Third Council of Constantinople condemned Monotheletism in AD 680.


God chose the prophesied forerunner of the Messiah to baptize Jesus in the water of the Jordan River (Mark 1:1–10; John 1:19–31; Acts 19:4). The purpose in the baptism was to reveal the personal presence of the Messiah in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. John the Baptizer associated that revelation of the Messiah with Christ’s identification as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Since John’s father was a priest (Luke 1:5), John was the “God-appointed and God-provided priest and prophet” who baptized Jesus.

Table 4.5 Early Church Councils

Council  Date  Issue  
Nicaea  AD 325  Defended the deity of Christ; opposed Arianism  
Constantinople I  AD 381  Defended the deity of Christ; opposed Arianism and Apollinarianism  
Ephesus  AD 431  Defended the two natures of Christ; opposed Nestorianism  
Chalcedon  AD 451  Defended the two natures of Christ; opposed Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, and Eutychianism/Monophysitism  
Constantinople II  AD 553  Defended the two natures of Christ; opposed Eutychianism/Monophysitism  
Constantinople III  AD 680–681  Defended the two natures of Christ; opposed Monotheletism  
Nicaea II  AD 787  Defended the use of icons  

Why was Jesus baptized? According to Jesus’s own explanation, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). By submitting to John’s baptism, Christ obeyed the will of God and identified himself with sinners. He would ultimately bear their sins so that his perfect righteousness might be imputed to them (2 Cor. 5:21). This act of obedience in baptism exemplified a necessary part of the righteous life he lived to be imputed to believers. This first public event of Jesus’s ministry possessed depth of meaning:

       1.    It prefigured the significance of Christian baptism.

       2.    It marked his first public identification with those whose sins he would bear (Isa. 53:11; 1 Pet. 3:18).

       3.    It publicly affirmed his messiahship by testimony directly from heaven (Matt. 3:17, which combined the messianic language of Ps. 2:7 and Isa. 42:1).


After John baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:13–17), the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1–11). The Holy Spirit played a significant role in Jesus’s life and ministry. The Spirit was the agent of Jesus’s conception in Mary’s womb (Matt. 1:20); he anointed and empowered Jesus in his ministry (Matt. 12:28; Luke 4:18–19; see Isa. 61:1); and he was also the active agent in Jesus’s resurrection (Rom. 8:11). The Spirit’s involvement in leading Jesus into the situation with Satan demonstrates that this testing accorded with God’s sovereign purpose in the program of redemption.

Satan’s temptations attacked Jesus in his humanity, since God himself (and therefore Jesus’s divine nature) “cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13). In fact, God never acts even as the agent tempting anyone to evil. However, he does use demons, Satan, and men to tempt when it fits his sovereign purposes (Job 1–2; Luke 22:31–32; 2 Cor. 12:7–10). In accord with the categories listed in 1 John 2:16, Satan tempted Jesus with hunger as one of “the desires of the flesh” (Matt. 4:2–3; 1 John 2:16), with putting God to the test as an exhibition of “the pride of life” (Matt. 4:5–6; 1 John 2:16), and with the possession of the kingdoms of the world and all their glory to fulfill “the desires of the eyes” (Matt. 4:8–9; 1 John 2:16). Through this specific time of testing as throughout his earthly life, Jesus was tempted “in every respect … as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus was able to be tempted but was unable to sin.

Over the years some have asked, was Christ able to sin in thought or deed? Two main answers to this question have been represented by two Latin phrases. The Latin phrase describing Jesus’s impeccability is non posse peccare (“not able to sin”). That concept contrasts with posse non peccare (“able not to sin”), which implies that Jesus could have sinned but kept himself from doing so. To be clear, peccability and impeccability are not synonyms for sinfulness and sinlessness. The former does not presuppose a sin nature. Both views admit that Jesus did not sin (1 John 3:5).

The peccability position asserts that Christ could have sinned even though he did not. This is by far the minority view among theologians today. Arguments include the following:

       1.    The full humanity of Christ: If Christ in his incarnation assumed full humanity with all its attributes, he must have had the ability to sin, since by itself, unfallen human nature is capable of sinning, as the fall of Adam and Eve shows (Gen. 3:1–6).

       2.    Christ’s ability to be tempted: Christ was tempted in all points as others are (Heb. 4:15). He endured numerous temptations throughout his life (Matt. 4:1–11), and the ability to be tempted implies the ability to sin. This argument is the one peccability advocates appeal to most often.

       3.    The free will of Christ: That Christ had, as Adam did before the fall, a free will implies peccability.

Peccability advocates see much at stake in this debate, preeminently the reality of Christ’s humanity, his temptation, and a truly sympathetic priesthood. They assert that all the above are compromised if Christ had no ability to sin.

The Scripture, however, argues for the impeccability of Christ. The impeccability position asserts that Christ was unable to sin. This is by far the majority view within the evangelicalism of past and present. Arguments for this viewpoint include the following:

       1.    The deity of Christ: Since Christ is God and since God cannot sin (James 1:13), it follows that Christ could not sin either. Since “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), God would have to die if he sinned—but God cannot die and, by implication, cannot sin.

       2.    The decrees of God: Since God had decreed the plan of redemption to be accomplished by Jesus Christ, it follows that Christ could not have sinned, for had he sinned, the plan of redemption would have failed.

       3.    The divine attributes of Christ: Some impeccability advocates argue from the immutability of Christ (see Heb. 13:8). The reasoning is that if Christ could have sinned while he was on earth, then he could sin now. Since he cannot sin now, and since he is immutable, it follows that he could not sin while on earth. Other attributes appealed to include Christ’s omnipotence (the ability to sin implies weakness, but Christ had no weakness) and omniscience (John 5:25). Someone might contend that arguments from the attributes of Christ’s deity are indecisive for the peccability question because in the kenosis Christ voluntarily yielded the independent exercise of his divine attributes to the will of his heavenly Father (see “Kenosis” [p. 258]). Thus, while impeccability may be implied by each of these divine attributes standing alone, Christ always exercised these in subordination to his Father’s will. And the Father would never direct the Son to restrict his divine attributes in order to make it possible for Christ to violate the Father’s will.

       4.    The Trinitarian relationship of Christ: Being “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1), Jesus could not fail the testing. The Holy Spirit could not fail in what he had been sent to do for Jesus.

Even though Jesus could not sin, the temptations he faced were genuine—their reality did not depend on his ability to respond. Indeed, since he never yielded to them, he endured their full force. Thus, temptation for Jesus was more real and more powerful than for any other human being. A comparison of Adam’s temptation and Jesus’s temptation reveals great differences and makes Jesus’s victory all the more remarkable:

       1.    Adam faced temptation in the best of settings, the garden of Eden; Jesus faced temptation in a stark environment, the wilderness of Judea.

       2.    Adam lived in the perfection of the prefall world; Jesus lived in a deeply corrupt and sinful fallen world.

       3.    Adam gave in to the first temptation he faced; Jesus faced repeated temptations throughout his earthly life and ministry (Heb. 4:15) but never yielded.

       4.    Adam entered his time of temptation adequately fed in a delightful garden filled with fruit and fresh water; Jesus was weakened by forty days of fasting before his temptation in the wilderness.

       5.    The consequences of Adam’s fall to temptation were lethal to the entire human race; the consequences of Jesus’s triumph over temptation allowed him to complete the program of redemption successfully.


The account of Jesus’s temptation raises the matter of Jesus’s relationship to and dependence on the Holy Spirit. Several Old Testament prophecies foretold that the Messiah would depend on the Holy Spirit:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. (Isa. 11:2–3)

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my Spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations. (Isa. 42:1)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

to grant to those who mourn in Zion—

to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,

the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;

that they may be called oaks of righteousness,

the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isa. 61:1–3)

Christ’s dependence on the Holy Spirit can be witnessed in his conception (Matt. 1:20), his baptism (Matt. 3:16–17), and his temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1). John writes that Christ “utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34). Indeed, Christ relied on the Spirit for power in his ministry (Luke 4:14) and especially in his preaching (Luke 4:17–22, fulfilling Isa. 61:1–2; Matt. 12:15–21, fulfilling Isa. 42:1–3). Christ “through the Spirit” gave commandments to his chosen apostles (Acts 1:2), and he “cast out demons by the Spirit of God” (Matt. 12:28 NASB). When Jesus healed, he did so by the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38).

At the end of his earthly sojourn, Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross through the Spirit: “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus to endure the hours of trial before and during the crucifixion—the inner agonies of Gethsemane, the humiliation before Pilate and Herod, the scourging and crown of thorns, the road to Golgotha, and the crucifixion. The Spirit preserved Jesus physically and otherwise, helping him maintain his purpose to offer himself on the cross as the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners in submission to the will of the Father. Christ’s decision, though enabled by the Spirit, was still his own to make: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17–18).

In Christ’s resurrection from the dead, all three persons of the Godhead played a role. The Father and the Spirit were involved: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom. 8:11). And the passage cited above (John 10:17–18; see also 2:19–22) demonstrates the Son’s involvement in his own resurrection.

From conception through resurrection, and, by inference, even through glorification, Jesus was sustained by the Holy Spirit. This admits to no weakness, but in Christ’s state of submission to the Father (especially in his incarnation), the Spirit enabled his human nature to fully accomplish redemption and all other aspects of his mission on earth. Such condescension was confirmed when the Jewish leaders determined that Jesus was Satanic, yet he accused them not of blaspheming him but of speaking against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:30–32).


Before Jesus began the series of events that would lead to his crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, he wanted to assure his disciples that he would return and establish his kingdom. The event known as Jesus’s transfiguration gave the disciples that assurance. The kingdom focus of Jesus’s ministry had reached a turning point marked by Matthew 16:21: “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus underwent the transfiguration not primarily to prove his deity, reveal his heavenly glory, or prophesy of his coming death and resurrection. Rather, he intended it to give a preview of the glory he would display upon his return to establish his kingdom. He introduced that truth himself in Matthew 16:28: “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Peter later spoke of the transfiguration when he wrote,

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Pet. 1:16–18)

The brilliant light of Christ’s countenance on the mountain (“his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light,” Matt. 17:2) portended the glory of “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). The apostle John described a similar vision of Christ’s glory in Revelation 1:14–16:

The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

This vision bears marked similarities to the description of King Jesus in Revelation 19:11–16 as he comes in judgment:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

The glory of God is most fully and clearly manifested in the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1–3). Thus, the apostle Paul called him “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8) and in 2 Corinthians 4:3–6 stated,

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The transfiguration event most powerfully and dramatically demonstrated that Jesus was the true glory of God, though veiled while he walked in flesh on this earth. The two comings of Christ, the first in humility robed in flesh and the second in glory robed in light, are the two great themes of biblical prophecy.

The two companions of Jesus in his transfiguration, Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:3), might be symbolic of two categories of those saints who enter the kingdom—those who have died and those who have not died but are transformed at the rapture. However, a more certain identification of their significance comes from the vision in Zechariah 4. In that vision, the golden lampstand (menorah) and the two olive trees provide assurance to Zerubbabel that he will receive divine enablement for the task of rebuilding the temple. God also reveals that he will supply his Spirit and endless power (Zech. 4:6), even unto the future glory of Messiah’s kingdom and temple. The two olive trees “are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zech. 4:14). At the transfiguration, Jesus is the Lord of all the earth, and Moses and Elijah are the anointed ones alongside him. John later identifies these same two olive trees as the two witnesses prophesying for 1,260 days in the tribulation period (Rev. 11:3–4). The miracles they perform (Rev. 11:5–6) appear to confirm that they might be Moses and Elijah:

While it is impossible to be dogmatic about the identity of these two witnesses, several observations suggest they might be Moses and Elijah: 1) like Moses, they strike the earth with plagues, and like Elijah, they have the power to keep it from raining; 2) Jewish tradition expected both Moses (cf. Deut. 18:15–18) and Elijah (cf. Mal. 4:5–6) to return in the future (cf. John 1:21); 3) both Moses and Elijah were present at the transfiguration, the preview of Christ’s second coming; 4) both Moses and Elijah used supernatural means to provoke repentance; 5) Elijah was taken up alive in to heaven, and God buried Moses’ body where it would never be found; and 6) the length of the drought the two witnesses bring (three and one-half years; cf. Rev. 11:3) is the same as that brought by Elijah (James 5:17).


Jesus’s teachings reveal the fact that he was a master teacher and a master storyteller who possessed knowledge and wisdom beyond any other person. In every setting and with every hearer, Jesus displayed a mastery of communication. Because every person learns differently, he employed a variety of methods. A. B. Bruce speaks of the challenge facing Jesus in teaching just his twelve disciples:

The humble fishermen of Galilee had much to learn before they could satisfy these high requirements; so much, that the time of their apprenticeship for their apostolic work, even reckoning it from the very commencement of Christ’s ministry, seems all too short. They were indeed godly men, who had already shown the sincerity of their piety by forsaking all for their Master’s sake. But at the time of their call they were exceedingly ignorant, narrow-minded, superstitious, full of Jewish prejudices, misconceptions, and animosities. They had much to unlearn of what was bad, as well as much to learn of what was good, and they were slow both to learn and to unlearn. Old beliefs already in possession of their minds made the communication of new religious ideas a difficult task. Men of good honest heart, the soil of their spiritual nature was fitted to produce an abundant harvest; but it was stiff, and needed much laborious tillage before it would yield its fruit.

The fact that Jesus trained them and that they spearheaded postresurrection gospel preaching and wrote two of the four Gospels (Matthew and John), a number of the New Testament Epistles (1 and 2 Peter and 1, 2, and 3 John), and the book of Revelation demonstrates their successful preparation by the Master. Peter might also have influenced the author of the Gospel of Mark, thus extending his involvement, though indirectly, in the writing of the New Testament.


The Gospels reveal a number of significant details about Jesus as a master teacher. The following are a sampling of observations that can be made from the biblical text:

       1.    Jesus was not a paid “professional” teacher: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher” (Matt. 23:8).

       2.    Jesus chose his pupils (even one who would betray him): “I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’ ” (John 13:18).

       3.    Jesus was not restricted to a specific location or single setting; he taught in the temple (Matt. 21:12–13), in the synagogue (Mark 1:21), on a mountain (Matt. 5:1), in fishermen’s boats (Luke 5:1–11), at a wedding (John 2:1–11), at a funeral (Luke 7:11–17), at a well (John 4:1–26), and in many other settings.

       4.    Jesus possessed a unique authority: “He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:29).

       5.    Jesus’s curriculum was his own, though directed by the Father: “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me” (John 8:28).

       6.    Jesus understood his students:

a.    He knew their capacities fully and accurately: “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10), and “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).

b.    He used repetition effectively, teaching multiple kingdom parables that repeat the same lessons in Matthew 13 or repeating references to the Holy Spirit as the “Helper” (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).

c.    He encouraged earnest students, instructing some privately concerning parables (Matt. 13:36–43) and giving special attention to Peter, John, and James at his transfiguration (Luke 9:28–36) and in the garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:37–38).

d.    He ensured a right attitude toward himself, such as in his teaching of the Samaritan woman in John 4:1–26.

e.    He established and maintained right relationships between his pupils: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12–13).

       7.    Jesus’s personal qualities and abilities maintained class control:

a.    He had an extraordinary ability to maintain the pupils’ interest and attention: “The great throng heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37); and, “After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:46–47).

b.    He possessed great patience, self-control, and self-discipline, as in his silence before his accusers, mockers, and persecutors (Matt. 26:63; 27:11–14; Luke 23:9).

c.    He maintained a dignified attitude: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented” (Matt. 3:13–15).

d.    He had a supernatural ability to lead: “Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ ” (John 11:14–16).

e.    He corrected wrong thinking, as when he explained to his disciples that they had failed to recognize a food greater than physical sustenance (John 4:31–38).

f.     He used an effective look at Peter when that disciple uttered his third denial of association with Christ (Luke 22:61).

g.    He could level a stern rebuke when necessary: “But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’ ” (Matt. 16:23).

h.    He warned of consequences: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

i.     He exemplified bold living based on biblical conviction, as when he cleared the money changers from the temple (Matt. 21:12–13) and as when he sent Judas out from among the disciples (John 13:27–30).

       8.    Jesus used a variety of literary and communicative devices in his teaching:

a.    He used different types of linguistic devices and styles for effective communication, including symbolism (Matt. 5:13), synonymous parallelism (Matt. 12:30), antithetic parallelism (Matt. 10:39), metaphor (Matt. 15:26), hyperbole (Matt. 5:29–30), parable (Matthew 13), and proverb (Luke 4:23). Additional linguistic devices appear in the original language (Greek) that make Jesus’s teachings unforgettable. Assonance and alliteration are one of the linguistic devices that cannot always be reproduced in translation. Matthew 7:2 provides just one example: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” In the Greek, memorable climactic triplets embed the statements in the minds of Jesus’s audience: en hō gar krimati krinete krithēsesthe, kai en hō metrō metreite metrēthēsetai humin.

b.    He employed visual aids: “And he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near’ ” (Luke 21:29–30).

c.    He utilized novelty, as when he sent someone to find a coin in a fish’s mouth by which he and one other might pay their temple tax (Matt. 17:24–27).

d.    He turned his pupils’ surroundings into visual aids: “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).

e.    He used miracles as visual aids, as in his withering up the fig tree in Matthew 21:18–22.

f.     Jesus himself served as a visual aid: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30).

       9.    Jesus employed questions as a teaching method:

a.    His questions were a point of contact: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ ” (John 20:15).

b.    His questions aroused interest and guided thought: “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Luke 5:23).

c.    He probed with examination questions: “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ ” (Matt. 16:15).

d.    He used questions asked by his pupils: “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ ” (Matt. 18:21).

Jesus was indeed the Prophet greater than Moses (Deut. 18:15–22; John 1:17; Heb. 3:3), the prophetic Teacher (Isa. 30:20; Matt. 26:18; John 13:13), and the wise Shepherd who was greater than Solomon (Eccles. 12:11; Matt. 12:42). These three depictions of the teaching ministry of the Messiah arise out of each of the three major sections of the Hebrew Bible: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Jesus indeed fulfills that which the Old Testament announced concerning the Messiah—not just as Prophet, Priest, and King (see “Old Testament Prophecies” [p. 245]) but as Teacher.


The ancient Jews commonly used parables as a form of teaching. A parable consists of what could be a long analogy but is cast in the form of an ingeniously simple and often brief story taken from everyday life. Jesus excelled in the use of parables. His parables “epitomize the plain, powerful profundity of His message and His teaching style.” That said, a number of interpreters misunderstand and misrepresent the method and meaning of Jesus’s parables.

First, Jesus did not speak in parables solely to make his teaching accessible to the multitudes. Early in his ministry, Jesus employed many graphic analogies (see Matt. 5:13–16) whose meaning was fairly clear in the context of his teaching. Parables required more explanation (see Matt. 13:36), and Jesus employed them to obscure the truth from unbelievers as a judgment while at the same time making it clearer to his disciples (Matt. 13:11–12). At one point in his Galilean ministry, he began speaking to the multitudes only in parables (Matt. 13:34). Jesus’s veiling the truth from unbelievers acted as both judgment and mercy. It was judgment because it kept them in the darkness that they loved (see John 3:19), but it was mercy because they had already rejected the light, so any exposure to more truth would only have increased their eternal condemnation.

Table 4.6 The Parables of Jesus

Parable  Matthew  Mark  Luke  
1. The lamp under a basket  5:14–16  4:21–22  8:16–17; 11:33–36  
2. A wise man builds on rock and a foolish man builds on sand  7:24–27     6:47–49  
3. Unshrunk (new) cloth on an old garment  9:16  2:21  5:36  
4. New wine in old wineskins  9:17  2:22  5:37–38  
5. The sower  13:3–23  4:2–20  8:4–15  
6. The weeds  13:24–30        
7. The mustard seed  13:31–32  4:30–32  13:18–19  
8. The leaven  13:33     13:20–21  
9. The hidden treasure  13:44        
10. The pearl of great price  13:45–46        
11. The net  13:47–50        
12. The lost sheep  18:12–14     15:3–7  
13. The unforgiving servant  18:23–35        
14. The laborers in the vineyard  20:1–16        
15. The two sons  21:28–32        
16. The wicked tenants  21:33–45  12:1–12  20:9–19  
17. The wedding feast  22:2–14        
18. The fig tree  24:32–44  13:28–32  21:29–33  
19. The wise and foolish virgins  25:1–13        
20. The talents  25:14–30        
21. The growing seed     4:26–29     
22. The master on a journey     13:33–37     
23. The moneylender and two debtors        7:41–43  
24. The good Samaritan        10:30–37  
25. A friend in need        11:5–13  
26. The rich fool        12:16–21  
27. The watchful servants        12:35–40  
28. The faithful servant and the evil servant        12:42–48  
29. The barren fig tree        13:6–9  
30. The great banquet        14:16–24  
31. Building a tower and a king making war        14:25–33  
32. The lost coin        15:8–10  
33. The lost son        15:11–32  
34. The dishonest manager        16:1–13  
35. The rich man and Lazarus        16:19–31  
36. The unworthy servants        17:7–10  
37. The persistent widow        18:1–8  
38. The Pharisee and the tax collector        18:9–14  
39. The ten minas        19:11–27  

Second, Jesus used parables not because they proved to be a better method of teaching than didactic discourses or sermonic exhortation. Actually, the four Gospels record more discourses (at least forty-five) than parables (thirty-nine, according to table 4.6).

Jesus employed a variety of methods to present propositional truth. He taught no allegorical stories with hidden, complex meanings. The interpretation of Jesus’s parables should look for their main, uncomplicated point. The lesser elements within the parable’s telling should not be taken as possessing some symbolic or spiritual meaning. When a parable’s symbolism tends to be more complex, Jesus usually explains the symbolism for his hearers, so that they will not miss his main point.


A look at the teaching ministry of Jesus uncovers its significant characteristics:

       1.    Originality: Jesus’s teaching was more than an echo of the Old Testament prophets and wise men. He said things that Moses and the prophets had not said—at least not with the clarity with which he spoke them. Six times in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said.… But I say to you …” (Matt. 5:21–22, 27–28, 31–32, 33–34, 38–39, 43–44).

       2.    Simplicity: His teachings were simple, because he used the common language and spoke in the context of everyday living. His teaching was direct and to the point: “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others” (Matt. 6:16).

       3.    Profundity: Jesus’s wisdom astounded and amazed his listeners (Matt. 13:54; Mark 6:2; Luke 2:47). His wisdom surpassed that of the Old Testament sages. No wonder he said of himself, “Wisdom is justified by all her children” (Luke 7:35), and, “Something greater than Solomon is here” (Matt. 12:42).

       4.    Imagery: Some of the sources for the images Jesus used in his teaching include natural phenomena (lightning, earthquake, storms, light, sunsets), animals (oxen, sheep, dogs, wolves, birds, serpents), plants (wild flowers, thorns, seeds), agriculture (farming, olive trees, vineyards, fig trees, wheat), commerce (tailors, fishermen, merchants, builders), and familiar social settings (weddings, hospitality, feasts, raising children, family bedtime). Jesus was a keen observer of human life together with all its challenges, pains, and joys.

       5.    Practicality: The emphasis in both parables and discourses falls on doing something: “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12); “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them” (Mark 14:7); “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21); “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19); and, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do” (John 14:12).

       6.    Authority: When Jesus taught, he taught with authority, not with guessing or with attempts to be right: “He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:29). When Jesus cast out demons, he wielded his divine authority and the people recognized it: “They questioned among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him’ ” (Mark 1:27). As Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum, the people “were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority” (Luke 4:32).

       7.    Finality: In some ways this aspect of the Lord’s teaching relates to his authority. The outcomes he foretells are inescapable and certain: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).

As a master teacher Jesus handled tough questions, showed compassion and understanding for his students, silenced critics and disrupters, and pointed his hearers again and again to divine revelation. He communicated with the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, the elite and the outcasts, the young and the old. He was the incarnation of the divine Teacher: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher” (Isa. 30:20).


Jesus proved his deity and his role as Messiah by means of the many miracles he performed during his earthly ministry (Matt. 11:4–5). A miracle consists of an act of God’s power by which he intervenes in the physical world in suspension and contradiction to natural law. In other words, a miracle is a supernatural event within the realm of the natural world. The prophets and the apostles also wrought miracles, but they did so by a power outside themselves (Ex. 14:13; Josh. 3:5; Acts 3:12). Jesus’s miracles came about through his inherent power (John 10:25, 37–38; 15:24). Although the Gospels record only thirty-seven miracles, listed in table 4.7, those represent the explosion of his divine power (Matt. 4:23–24; John 20:30–31).

Table 4.7 The Miracles of Jesus

Miracle  Matthew  Mark  Luke  John  
1. Cleansing a leper  8:2–4  1:40–45  5:12–14     
2. Healing a centurion’s servant (of paralysis)  8:5–13     7:1–10     
3. Healing Peter’s mother-in-law  8:14–15  1:30–31  4:38–39     
4. Healing the sick at evening  8:16  1:32–34  4:40     
5. Stilling the storm  8:23–27  4:35–41  8:22–25     
6. Demons entering a herd of swine  8:28–34  5:1–20  8:26–39     
7. Healing a paralytic  9:2–7  2:3–12  5:18–26     
8. Raising the ruler’s daughter  9:18–19, 23–25  5:22–24, 35–43  8:41–42, 49–56     
9. Healing the hemorrhaging woman  9:20–22  5:25–34  8:43–48     
10. Healing two blind men  9:27–31           
11. Curing a demon-possessed, mute man  9:32–33           
12. Healing a man’s withered hand  12:9–14  3:1–6  6:6–11     
13. Curing a demon-possessed, blind, and mute man  12:22     11:14     
14. Feeding the five thousand  14:13–21  6:30–44  9:10–17  6:1–15  
15. Walking on the sea  14:22–33  6:45–52     6:16–21  
16. Healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter  15:22–28  7:25–30        
17. Feeding the four thousand  15:32–39  8:1–10        
18. Healing the boy with the demon  17:14–20  9:14–29  9:37–43     
19. Two-drachma tax in the fish’s mouth  17:24–27           
20. Healing two blind men  20:29–34  10:46–52  18:35–43     
21. Withering the fig tree  21:18–19  11:12–14, 20–25        
22. Casting out an unclean spirit     1:23–28  4:33–37     
23. Healing a deaf-mute     7:31–37        
24. Healing a blind man at Bethsaida     8:22–26        
25. Escape from the hostile multitude        4:28–30     
26. Catch of fish        5:1–11     
27. Raising of a widow’s son at Nain        7:11–17     
28. Healing the afflicted, bent woman        13:10–17     
29. Healing the man with dropsy        14:1–6     
30. Cleansing the ten lepers        17:11–19     
31. Restoring a servant’s ear        22:50–51     
32. Turning water into wine           2:1–11  
33. Healing the royal official’s son (of fever)           4:46–54  
34. Healing an afflicted man at Bethesda           5:1–9  
35. Healing the man born blind           9:1–7  
36. Raising of Lazarus           11:1–44  
37. Second catch of fish           21:1–8  

The miracles that Jesus produced sometimes resulted in belief (John 2:11; 9:30–33; 11:45) or created a willingness in Jesus’s hearers to listen to his teachings (Mark 12:37; Luke 5:15). The vast majority, however, rejected Jesus despite his miracles. Miracles do not necessarily convince people to believe in the Lord or in his gospel message (Matt. 13:58; Luke 16:31; John 2:23–25; 12:37; 15:24). Those who rejected (and who now also reject) his miracles will be severely judged (Matt. 10:1–15; Luke 10:1–15).

Jesus Christ’s miracles demonstrate his deity, his supernatural origin, his power as Creator, and his authority as the sovereign Lord of all creation. His ministry confronted the antisupernatural worldview of his day and equally confronts the present world with the blindness of selling out to the uniformitarian naturalism of secular scientists. “It is impossible to remove the supernatural elements from Jesus’s life and work, as anti-supernaturalist critics have attempted to do. The historical Jesus of Nazareth and the divine Christ are inseparably linked, for they are one and the same person. Jesus was and is the God-man.”

The wedding at Cana became the occasion for the first and most memorable example of the miracle-working power that Jesus displayed during his ministry (John 2:1–11). Jesus commanded the servants to fill large stone waterpots (John 2:7), so they filled them to their brims. The large amount of water (120–180 gallons) would provide an abundance of wine for the rest of the wedding celebration. Jesus’s transformation of the water into wine was instantaneous—the servants immediately distributed it to the guests. The miracle consisted of creating out of nonliving water a wine that could only come from the fruit of living grapevines. The normal process of fermentation, or aging, took place instantaneously. Jesus demonstrated that he was the same Creator who instantly created mature living things out of nonliving earth during the six days of creation (Gen. 1:1–31). Denial of instantaneous creation in Genesis 1 must, to be consistent, likewise deny the miracle by which Jesus created the wine at Cana. Rejecting his miracle at Cana results in rejecting Jesus as the God-man and as the Redeemer.

Arrest and Trials

What significance do Jesus’s arrest and trials have for the biblical doctrine of Christ? Do such considerations belong more properly to a study of the historical life of Jesus Christ? The apostle Paul reminds Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Therefore, the biblical accounts of the arrest and trials of Jesus cannot be mere historical data but are explicit proof of his messiahship.


The prophetic depiction of the Messiah being accused and led away to judgment implied something like an arrest (Isa. 53:8), and he himself announced his arrest beforehand (Matt. 17:22; 20:18). Such fulfillment of prior revelation demonstrates the authenticity of Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah. His arrest also pits fallen mankind (the descendants of the first Adam) against the blameless, sinless second Adam (Rom. 5:17–19). Above all, the arrest reveals the perfect plan of God and the willing obedience of Christ to that plan, no matter the consequences for him personally (Matt. 26:39; Acts 2:23).

The trials of Jesus highlight his sinless perfection, his perfect obedience, and the strident injustice that prevailed from the merely human viewpoint as compared to the severe mercy of God from the divine viewpoint. Prior to his trials, the Jewish leaders had already hatched a conspiracy to “arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matt. 26:4). The religious leaders had been stung by Jesus’s accusations of hypocrisy (Matt. 21:45; 23:1–36) and desired to do away with him, to assassinate him. Their fear of the people, among whom Jesus was very popular, prevented them from pursuing a public assassination (Matt. 21:46). The leaders were so convinced that Jesus was a false prophet and a blasphemer that they willingly accepted the responsibility for his death (Matt. 27:25).

If the Jews alone were responsible for Jesus’s death, that guilt would not apply to all people. Therefore, it was necessary for Gentiles to also be involved in his execution, so that all might be held accountable. As Boice and Ryken point out, “An Idumean king named Herod handed Jesus over to the Romans. A Roman governor named Pontius Pilate ordered Jesus to be crucified. Roman soldiers carried out Pilate’s orders, nailing Jesus to a wooden cross and hanging him up to die. The Jews brought Jesus to trial, but in the end the Gentiles killed him.” The biblical testimony appears in the prayer of the believers awaiting the release of Peter and John from jail: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27).

The divine side of the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus also appears in that same prayer, which states that these people were gathered “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). As Isaiah prophesied, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isa. 53:10). Indeed, all was according to the precreation plan of the omniscient God:

… knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Pet. 1:18–21)

God has no “plan B”—everything is still operating by his one and only plan for his redemption and kingdom.

Besides “knowing all that would happen to him” (John 18:4), Jesus at the time of his arrest provided additional external evidence of his deity. He asked whom the band of soldiers and officers of the chief priest sought, and they responded, “Jesus of Nazareth” (John 18:3–5). As soon as he identified himself saying, “I am he,” “they drew back and fell to the ground” (John 18:5–6). Why did they react in such a fashion? It is not unreasonable to suppose that their drawing back might be due to their fear of Jesus given his reputation as a miracle worker. But why would they all fall to the ground? The power of his word and of his presence may very well have been due to the way in which he said, “I am he.” “He” is not in the Greek. Jesus’s revelatory self-declaration was simply “I am,” the same title of deity disclosed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. This is the final such self-declaration spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry (see “The ‘I Am’ Statements” below for a list of all these declarations in the Gospel of John; similar statements occur only three times in the other Gospels: Matt. 22:32; Mark 6:50; 14:62). The power of Jesus’s spoken word caused the soldiers and officers to fall to the ground before him. Even his betrayer, Judas, fell.

The “I Am” Statements Twenty-three times we find our Lord’s meaningful “I am” (egō eimi) in the Greek text of this Gospel (John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8). In several of these, he joins his “I am” with seven tremendous metaphors that are expressive of his saving relationship toward the world: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7, 9). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). “I am the true vine” (John 15:1, 5).  

As if that were insufficient to prove that Jesus is truly God, an additional incident drove the point home. When Peter drew his sword and sliced off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (John 18:10), Jesus miraculously reattached it to Malchus’s head (Luke 22:51). In addition to that physical miracle of healing, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matt. 26:53–54). God himself had foreordained the very minutest details of how Jesus would die (Acts 2:23; 4:27–28). Therefore, dying was Christ’s consummate act of submission to the Father’s will. In all this, Jesus himself was in absolute control (see John 10:17–18). These events at his arrest display his divine sovereignty and purposeful fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning him.


The Sanhedrin. As is clear in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s trials,

he was tried in two general phases: first, before the religious authorities (the Jewish Sanhedrin), and second, before the secular political authorities (Rome, represented by governor Pontius Pilate). Each of these phases had three parts: preliminary interrogation, formal arraignment, and formal sentencing. None of the gospel writers provide a comprehensive account of all the details and stages of these trials. A complete picture requires the material from all four gospels being combined.

During the period between the Old Testament and the New, Jewish authorities established the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem as the highest court in Israel. They patterned it after the council of elders Moses convened in Numbers 11:16: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.’ ” Those seventy men plus Moses formed a council of seventy-one elders whose job it was to govern the Israelites in the wilderness.

Since Moses’s council of elders served as the pattern for the Sanhedrin, that council also numbered seventy-one members—comprising twenty-four chief priests (the heads of the twenty-four priestly divisions; see 1 Chron. 24:4) and forty-six more elders chosen from among the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. The high priest acted as both the overseer and a voting member of the Sanhedrin, bringing the number to seventy-one. (The odd number ensured that decisions could be reached by majority vote.)

By Jesus’s time, the Sanhedrin had become a corrupt and politically motivated body. Men could buy an appointment to the council with political favors and sometimes even with money. Favoritism and partisanship ran rife, and political expediency often determined who rose to power or fell from it within the Sanhedrin. Rome exercised ultimate control over the high priesthood, because Rome could appoint or depose the high priest. Both the high priest and the ruling priests of the temple were all Sadducees, who openly denied the supernatural elements of the Old Testament. Due to political tensions seething between the various factions of the Sanhedrin, the citizens of Israel, Rome, and Herod, the Sanhedrin often made decisions that were politically motivated. In fact, aside from their obvious religious animosity to the teaching of Christ, sheer political expediency was the motive for conspiring to carry out the arrest and crucifixion of Christ and to placate the Romans (see John 11:47–53).

Principles of Justice. Despite ubiquitous corruption, the rules of evidence and principles of impartiality that had been established under Moses still governed the justice system. Those rules required two credible witnesses in order to establish guilt. The accused was entitled to a public trial and a defense, including the right to call witnesses and present evidence. To deter anyone from bringing false testimony against an accused person, Moses’s law established the principle of a penalty for false witness equivalent to the penalty for a guilty defendant (Deut. 19:16–19). Therefore, if someone testified falsely against a person accused of a capital crime, the false witness himself could be given the death penalty.

Rabbinical tradition had added another restriction on death-penalty cases. The council had to observe a full day of fasting between the passing of sentence and the execution of the criminal. That requirement not only prevented hasty trials and executions but also kept capital cases off the docket during the feasts. After the obligatory day of fasting, council members were polled again to see if they had changed their opinions. Guilty verdicts could thus be overturned, but innocent verdicts could not be rescinded.

All such principles were established to ensure that trials were both fair and merciful. To maintain fairness, the council could try cases only where an outside party had brought the charges. If council members had brought charges against the accused, the entire council was disqualified from trying the case. All witnesses had to give precise, consistent testimony as to the date, time, and location of the event under question. Women, children, slaves, and the mentally incompetent were not permitted to testify. Persons of questionable character were also disqualified from being witnesses. The council had to presume the accused to be innocent until they reached an official guilty verdict. Criminal trials were not to be convened at night, and if a trial was already underway when nighttime fell, court was to be recessed until the following day.

Nearly all these regulations were openly flouted in the trial of Christ. His trial was unjust and illegal by virtually every principle of jurisprudence known at the time. Caiaphas the high priest and the Sanhedrin turned their council into a kangaroo court with the predetermined purpose of killing Jesus. The trial they imposed on him was one extended act of deliberate injustice, the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the world. The various trials of Jesus that led to his execution are summarized in table 4.8 and expounded in what follows.

Table 4.8 The Trials of Jesus

Trials  Scripture Passages  Theological Focus  
religious trials  
Before Annas—a preliminary hearing about Jesus’s disciples and his teaching  John 18:12–14, 19–23  General teaching  
Before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin—the first formal hearing, finding Jesus guilty of blasphemy and deserving of death  Matt. 26:57–27:2 (see also Mark 14:53–15:1; Luke 22:54–23:1; John 18:24)  Jesus’s deity  
civil trials  
Before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor—wherein the Jews charge Jesus with sedition rather than blasphemy but Pilate declares him innocent  John 18:28–38 (see also Matt. 27:2, 11–14; Mark 15:1–5; Luke 23:1–5)  Jesus’s humanity and kingship  
Before Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee—wherein Herod apparently concludes, as Pilate did, that Jesus was innocent of the charge of sedition  Luke 23:6–12  Jesus’s humanity and deity  
Before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor—wherein Pilate capitulates to the Jews and condemns Jesus to die  John 18:39–19:16 (see also Matt. 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:13–25)     

The Religious Trials. Jesus was taken first to Annas before whom he would face his first legal trial (John 18:12–14). Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, had previously functioned as high priest ca. AD 6–15 (until Pilate’s predecessor removed him from his priestly office). He continued to exercise great influence over the office even after his tenure, most likely because the Jews still regarded him as the true high priest and also because five of his sons and his son-in-law Caiaphas each held the position at different times. The trial under Annas consisted of a preliminary examination (John 18:12–14, 19–23), probably to give time for the Sanhedrin to be hastily gathered. Annas questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus responded by pointing out that Annas needed witnesses to establish just cause for making a case against him. One of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus for rebuking Annas. When Jesus indicated that everyone knew he was right about the need for witnesses, no one responded because his Jewish opponents had no intention of providing a fair trial (John 11:47–57). Annas remanded him over to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (John 18:24).

A session before the Sanhedrin then followed, with Caiaphas chairing the formal council (Matt. 26:57–27:2). The Roman prefect, Valerius Gratus, had appointed Caiaphas as high priest ca. AD 18. Caiaphas remained in office until AD 36 when, along with Pontius Pilate, he was removed by the Romans. He took a leading part in this first formal trial and condemnation of Jesus. In the residence of Caiaphas, the chief priests (who were mostly Sadducees) and the Pharisees had assembled “in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matt. 26:3–4). Now they gathered to put him on trial. Although they had sought out many false witnesses, those witnesses failed to agree in any substantial fashion that would justify continuing the trial. Jesus maintained his silence since the witnesses obviously had nothing substantive to offer against him—he saw no need for defense against such a weak showing. Finally, Caiaphas asked him to declare whether he was indeed “the Christ, the Son of God” (Matt. 26:63). Jesus affirmed the identification, appealing to Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, which he would fulfill. With that, Caiaphas tore his clothes and declared Jesus guilty of blasphemy, and the council voiced its conclusion by calling for his execution. Strictly speaking, Jesus’s words did not constitute blasphemy or any defiant irreverence for God—he spoke truth concerning his deity. Then those around him began to spit on Jesus and strike him, asking him to exercise his alleged deity by frivolously identifying those who had struck him secretly. Jesus, however, never glibly used the powers of his deity and never employed them to prevent his suffering and death when the time had come (though he had exercised them to prevent his premature demise, as at Nazareth, Luke 4:28–30).

The Civil Trials. The religious trials were over. The third trial took place before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, opening the civil phase of Jesus’s trials (John 18:28–38). When Pilate asked the Jewish authorities by what charge Jesus might be tried by him, they did not mention blasphemy. They indicated that they had no authority to execute him, because they were under Roman law on capital crimes. Then they deliberately lied by accusing Jesus of telling people not to pay taxes to Caesar (Luke 23:2; see 20:20–25) and of claiming himself to be king—in other words, charges of sedition, not blasphemy. Pilate focused on the second of the charges and asked Jesus if he was “King of the Jews” (John 18:33). Jesus responded by saying that his kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). He thereby laid out the fact that the Messiah’s kingdom originated not with the efforts of human beings but with the Son of Man himself forcefully and decisively conquering sin in the lives of his people. At his second coming he would conquer the evil world system and establish the temporary earthly form of his kingdom. For the time being, however, his kingdom presented no physical or political threat to either Israel or Rome.

Jesus did not deny that he was king but indicated a higher purpose for his coming: “to bear witness of the truth” (John 18:37). To a Jew, Jesus’s statement about his coming “into the world” would have been understood as another claim to deity. But Pilate was a Roman, not a Jew, so he missed this finer detail. Pilate pressed on with a question concerning the truth about which Jesus had spoken. If Jesus answered that question, the Gospels do not reveal it. Perhaps Pilate did not wait for an answer, since his mind had already been made up: he found no guilt in Jesus worthy of death (John 18:38). The Jews renewed their accusations and their call for Jesus’s death, but Jesus maintained his silence, to Pilate’s amazement (Matt. 27:12–14). Jesus may have remained silent in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa. 42:1–2; 53:7) or because Pilate had declared him innocent (Luke 23:4; John 18:38)—or both.

Jesus’s fourth trial continued in the political realm with his appearance before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6–12). Despite the Jewish leaders’ desperate attempts to accuse Jesus, Pilate was satisfied that he was no insurrectionist. However, the ferocity of the people made him afraid to exonerate Jesus. He was relieved to hear that Jesus was a Galilean, because that gave him an excuse to send him to Herod (Luke 23:5–6). Herod Antipas was one of the Jewish rulers appointed by Rome over four districts of Israel. Antipas was the tetrarch over Galilee, Jesus’s home. Herod had come to Jerusalem for the feasts, and Pilate seized the opportunity to free himself from a political dilemma by sending Jesus to his rival.

No one was more curious or more eager to lay eyes on Jesus than Herod Antipas, a member of the Herodian dynasty. He had killed John the Baptist a year or two earlier (Matt. 14:1–12). Jesus’s ministry covered the entire region of Galilee, but Scripture never mentions that he ever visited Tiberias, Herod Antipas’s capital. It may be that Jesus was deliberately keeping his distance from Herod. There were rumors that Herod was also seeking to kill Jesus. While it is clear that Jesus was not intimidated by Herod, he knew that he must die in Jerusalem so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled (Luke 13:31–33).

How different Christ must have looked from the strong, prophetic miracle worker Herod expected to see! His face was already badly bruised and swollen from the abuse he had taken. Spittle and blood were drying in his matted hair. Tired and physically weakened from a sleepless night, he stood before Herod, bound and under guard like a common criminal. Herod beheld Jesus in his full humanity, which veiled Jesus’s deity from his spiritually blind eyes. Jesus refused to perform any miracle for Herod that might reveal that Jesus was more than a man. Herod “questioned him at some length, but he made no answer” (Luke 23:9). The Sanhedrin was still dogging Christ, standing nearby and vehemently shouting denunciations and accusations at him (Luke 23:10). But Jesus refused to utter even so much as a word (see Matt. 27:14)—never allowing himself to rail at his accusers or say anything in self-defense (1 Pet. 2:23).

Only before Herod, though, did he remain in utter and complete silence. Why might this be? In the first place, Herod had no legitimate jurisdiction in Jerusalem. If Herod intended to impose any sentence in this case, Jesus would first have needed to be taken back to Galilee and put on trial there. So Jesus had no legal obligation to answer him anyway. But there may have been another reason Jesus kept silent. Herod’s treatment of Jesus’s forerunner, John the Baptist, made clear where he stood regarding the truth of Christ. For Jesus to answer him would have been like giving what is holy to the dogs or casting pearls before swine. Herod was already poised to turn and tear Christ in pieces (see Matt. 7:6). Silence was the only appropriate response under such circumstances.

After a short time, Herod grew tired of questioning Jesus and decided to make sport of him: “And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate” (Luke 23:11). Luke adds a historical footnote: “And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other” (Luke 23:12). It was an unholy alliance, a friendship based on the one thing they had in common: their cowardly and contemptuous treatment of Christ. Both Herod and Pilate knew that Christ posed no immediate threat to their political interests. His appearance and his demeanor spoke for themselves. How could such an apparently passive, serene, fragile man—whose claim to fame was as a teacher and a healer—pose any political threat to anyone? It was as clear to Herod as it had been to Pilate that the Sanhedrin’s charges were fabricated and ill-motivated. But Herod happily joined in the game. He clothed Jesus in a gorgeous robe, and then he and his security forces subjected him to mockery in front of the growing crowd of onlookers.

Herod Antipas returned Jesus to Pilate for the final trial (Matt. 27:15–26; Mark 15:6–15; Luke 23:13–25; John 18:39–19:16). Pilate announced that both Herod and he had found Jesus innocent of any of the Jewish charges of sedition (Luke 23:13–16). The Roman governor proceeded to seek a way to release Jesus by offering to make him the freed prisoner customarily released on the Passover, but the Jews would not allow it, calling instead for Barabbas to be released (Matt. 27:18–22). Pilate asked the Jews, “Why, what evil has he done?” (Matt. 27:23), but they insisted on Jesus’s crucifixion. Washing his hands to symbolize his guiltlessness, Pilate announced that the Jews themselves were guilty of this innocent man’s blood (Matt. 27:24). Pilate’s final act in this drama was to release Barabbas, have Jesus flogged, and deliver him over to the Roman executioners for crucifixion (Matt. 27:26). Severe injustice perpetrated against the blameless and sinless character of Christ, the Son of Man, made all the participants in the trial guilty.


Suffering Prior to Crucifixion. The Roman soldiers had no idea whom they were tormenting. As far as they were concerned, they were simply crucifying another criminal under orders from Pilate, their commander-in-chief. Pilate’s orders were to scourge and crucify Jesus, but the cruel mockery they heaped on him revealed their own wickedness. As they led Jesus back to the Praetorium, they deliberately made a spectacle of him for the amusement of the taunting crowd. The tumult drew the entire garrison of soldiers to watch.

The cohort (six hundred soldiers) was stationed at the Antonio Fortress (which overlooked the temple mount from the north). They were an elite unit, assigned to serve the governor and to keep the peace that was so fragile in this most volatile region of the Roman Empire. Since Jews were exempt from military service, all these soldiers would have been Gentiles. They probably assumed that Jesus deserved whatever ridicule and torment they could heap on him. Condemned Roman prisoners were considered fair game for such abuse, as long as they were not killed before the sentence of crucifixion could be carried out.

Jesus had already been abused and beaten repeatedly, even before he was delivered to Pilate, so his face was undoubtedly swollen and bleeding already. After the scourging, his back would have been a mass of bleeding wounds and quivering muscles, and the robe they fashioned for him would have only added to the pain of those wounds. They stripped him of his garments apart from the robe they fashioned for him. The robe was likely made from an old tunic—probably a garment that had been discarded by one of the soldiers. Matthew says that the robe was scarlet (Matt. 27:28), but Mark and John call it “purple” (Mark 15:17; John 19:2)—suggesting that it was a badly faded tunic. It was probably the nearest thing to purple (signifying royalty) the soldiers could find.

Their aim was clearly to make a complete mockery of his claim that he was a king. To that end, they also fashioned a crown of thorns. Caesar wore a laurel wreath as a crown; thorns were a cruel corruption of that wreath. These were no doubt the longest, sharpest thorns that could be found. Many varieties of these grow in Jerusalem to this day—some with two-inch barbed quills that would penetrate deep into his head as the crown was pressed hard on him. The reed in his hand to represent a scepter was a further attempt to lampoon his royal claim.

Jesus’s silence may have convinced them that he was merely a madman, and they showed their utter contempt for him by feigning the sort of veneration one would show to royalty, bowing at his feet but saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” in jeering tones. Then, as the Jewish priests had done, they spat on him, and one of them took the reed from his hand and used it to strike him repeatedly on his head. The reed, though a flimsy scepter, would have been firm enough to inflict great pain on his already battered head. The apostle John records that they also beat him with their hands (John 19:3)—probably slapping with open hands while taunting him some more. But Jesus continually remained silent. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23). Jesus knew these things were part of the Father’s plan for him, so he suffered them all willingly and patiently. He endured the mocking, the flogging, the humiliation, and the shame:

I gave my back to those who strike,

and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;

I hid not my face

from disgrace and spitting.

But the Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced;

therefore I have set my face like a flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame. (Isa. 50:6–7)

“And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him” (Matt. 27:31). Victims of crucifixion were usually made to wear a placard around the neck on which was written the crime for which they were condemned. It was part of the shame that was deliberately inflicted on victims of crucifixion (see Heb. 12:2; 13:13). They were led through the streets and made to walk in a public procession in order to maximize the humiliation of the spectacle. They were also forced to carry their own cross to the place of execution. A Roman cross large enough to crucify a grown man might weigh as much as two hundred pounds—an extremely heavy load to bear in any circumstances. But for someone in Jesus’s severely weakened condition, it would have been virtually impossible to drag such a load from the Praetorium to the place of crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem. In fact, Matthew records that Jesus needed help bearing his cross: “As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross” (Matt. 27:32).

Christ’s last public message was given on the road to Calvary. Luke describes it:

And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:27–31)

Part of the message was a reference to Hosea 10:8: “They shall say to the mountains, ‘Cover us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us.’ ” It was a dire warning of disaster to come. Since in that culture childbearing was understood to be the highest blessing God could give a woman, only the worst kind of plague or disaster could ever cause anyone to say, “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” (Luke 23:29).

The green tree represented a time of abundance and blessing, and the dry tree stood for bad times. Jesus was saying that if a tragedy like this could happen in good times, what would befall the nation in bad times? If the Romans crucified someone who they admitted was innocent, what would they do to the Jewish nation when they rebelled? Christ was referring to events that would happen less than a generation later, in AD 70, when the Roman army would lay siege to Jerusalem, utterly destroy the temple, and slaughter thousands upon thousands of Jewish people—multitudes of them by crucifixion. Christ had spoken before of the coming holocaust (see Luke 19:41–44). His awareness of that approaching catastrophe—and the knowledge that some of these same people and their children would suffer in it—still weighed heavily on his mind as he made his way to the cross.

In the Jewish mind, crucifixion was a particularly execrable way to die. It was similar to the hanging on a tree that Moses described in Deuteronomy 21:22–23: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.” The Mosaic law also required that all executions occur outside the city walls (Num. 15:35; see Heb. 13:12). The Romans had a slightly different concept. They made sure that all crucifixions took place near major thoroughfares in order to generate fear by making the condemned person a public example for all passersby. So Jesus’s crucifixion took place outside the city but in a heavily trafficked location carefully selected to make him a public spectacle.

Matthew writes, “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it” (Matt. 27:33–34). Mark 15:23 says that the bitter substance was myrrh, which acts as a mild narcotic. The soldiers may have offered it for its numbing effect just before they drove the nails through the flesh. Jesus spat it out, because he did not want his senses numbed. He had come to the cross to be a sin bearer, and he would feel the full effect of the sin he bore; he would endure the full measure of its pain. His heart was still steadfastly set on doing the will of the Father, and he would not anesthetize his senses before he had accomplished all his work.

The vinegar and gall fulfilled a messianic prophecy from Psalm 69:19–21:

You know my reproach,

and my shame and my dishonor;

my foes are all known to you.

Reproaches have broken my heart,

so that I am in despair.

I looked for pity, but there was none,

and for comforters, but I found none.

They gave me poison for food,

and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.

Crucifixion. The intense shame of the crucifixion was accompanied by an equally intense physical pain, and yet even in that unparalleled suffering, Christ spoke forth words of truth and grace. We explore these matters below.

The prophecies concerning crucifixion. As previously discussed, the “head” and the “heel” of the two protagonists in Genesis 3:15 foreshadow important details regarding the conflict between Satan’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. The promise regarding the victorious offspring (“seed”) of the woman involved his being wounded on the heel. Psalm 22:16 expands this image to include the hands, referring to wounds suffered in what appears to be an execution, wounds that fit the method of first-century Roman crucifixion: “They have pierced my hands and feet.” The Greek Septuagint supports this translation nearly two hundred years before Christ. The Hebrew text might alternatively read, “Like a lion, my hands and my feet.” However, even that reading allows for wounds that a lion might have caused by biting or clawing—both actions might “pierce” hands and feet. Luke 24:39–40 confirms that Jesus’s crucifixion left wounds in his hands and feet: “ ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.” That Psalm 22:16 preserves a prophecy concerning the Messiah’s execution becomes quite clear when repeated parallels occur between the events surrounding Jesus’s crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospels, and the events described in Psalm 22. Table 4.9 identifies the parallels.

The method and effects of crucifixion. Crucifixion was a form of execution that the Romans had learned from the Persians, who developed a method of crucifying victims by impaling them on a pole, thus raising them high above the earth, where they were left to die. By the time of Christ, crucifixion had become the favorite method of execution throughout the Roman Empire, and especially in Judea, where it was regularly used to make a public example of rioters and insurrectionists.

The exact process used in Jesus’s crucifixion is a matter of some conjecture. None of the Gospel accounts gives a detailed description of the method used on him. After Jesus’s crucifixion Thomas had said to the other disciples, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). From his remark we know that Christ was nailed to the cross, rather than being lashed by leather thongs.

The nails had to be driven through the wrists (not the palms of the hands) because neither the tendons nor the bone structure in the hands could support the body’s weight. Nails in the palms would simply tear the flesh between the bones. Nails through the wrists would usually shatter carpal bones and tear the carpal ligaments, but the structure of the wrist was nonetheless strong enough to support the weight of the body. As the nail went into the wrist, it would usually cause severe damage to the sensorimotor median nerve, causing intense pain in both arms. Recovered skeletons of first-century crucifixions preserve evidence that the feet were nailed through the structure of the foot between the ankle bone and the heel bone. That coincides with the description in Genesis 3:15 of the woman’s offspring sustaining a wound to the “heel.”

After the victim was nailed in place, several soldiers would slowly elevate the top of the cross and carefully slide the foot into a deep posthole. The cross would drop with a jarring blow into the bottom of the hole, causing the full weight of the victim to be immediately borne by the nails in the wrists and feet. That would cause a bonewrenching pain throughout the body, as major joints were suddenly twisted out of their natural position. That is probably what Christ prophetically referred to in Psalm 22, which reads, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint” (22:14).

Death normally came from slow suffocation. The victim’s body would hang in such a way that the diaphragm was severely constricted. In order to exhale, he would have to push up with the feet so that the diaphragm would have room to move. Ultimately, fatigue, intense pain, or muscle atrophy would render the victim unable to do this, and he would finally die from the lack of oxygen. Once strength or feeling in the legs was gone, the victim would be unable to push up in order to breathe, and death would occur quickly. That is why the Romans sometimes broke the legs below the knees, to hasten the process (see John 19:31).

Table 4.9 The Chronology of Christ’s Crucifixion

Time  New Testament Scripture  Event  Psalm 22  
9 a.m.  Luke 23:26  Jesus is led to Calvary.     
Luke 23:33  Jesus is crucified.  Ps. 22:16  
10 a.m.  Luke 23:34a  Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them.”     
Luke 23:34b  The soldiers divide up Jesus’s clothes.  Ps. 22:18  
Matt. 27:39–43  People hurl “abuse at him, wagging their heads.”  Ps. 22:6–8  
Luke 23:35  The chief priests and rulers mock, “He saved others …”  Ps. 22:12–13  
Luke 23:39  One criminal mocks, “Save yourself and us!”     
11 a.m.  Luke 23:40, 42  The other criminal pleads, “Jesus, remember me …”     
Luke 23:43  Jesus assures the criminal, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”     
John 19:26–27  Jesus says, “Woman, behold, your son!”     
Noon  Luke 23:44  Darkness covers the whole land for three hours.     
1 p.m.  Matt. 27:46  Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Ps. 22:1  
John 19:28  Jesus says, “I thirst.”  Ps. 22:14–15  
2 p.m.  John 19:30  Jesus declares, “It is finished.”  Ps. 22:31  
Luke 23:46  Jesus prays, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”  Ps. 22:19–21  
3 p.m.  Matt. 27:51  An earthquake hits, and the temple curtain is torn in two.     
Matt. 27:52  Tombs break open.     
Matt. 27:54  A centurion exclaims, “Truly this was the Son of God.”     
Luke 23:48  A crowd witnesses Jesus’s suffering and beats their breasts.     
John 19:31–32  The soldiers break the two criminals’ legs.     
John 19:34  A soldier pierces Jesus’s side with a spear.     
Matt. 27:57–60  Jesus is buried.  Ps. 22:15  
6 p.m.     The Sabbath begins.     

The mockery by the members of the Sanhedrin was a desperate attempt to convince themselves and all other witnesses that Jesus was not Israel’s Messiah. They believed that the Messiah could not be conquered. The fact that Jesus hung there dying so helplessly was proof, as far as they were concerned, that he was not who he claimed to be. So they reveled in their triumph, strutting and swaggering among the crowd of observers, announcing to everyone but to no one in particular, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ” (Matt. 27:42–43). If they had been the kind of spiritual leaders they were supposed to be, they would have noticed that their words were an almost verbatim fulfillment of the prophecy of Psalm 22:8.

These were the spiritual leaders in Israel. They had everything to do with religion but nothing to do with God. They therefore bore the greatest guilt of all who participated in the humiliation of Christ. Although they pretended to sit in Moses’s seat (Matt. 23:2), they did not believe Moses (John 5:46). Although they claimed to be spokesmen for God, they were actually children of Satan (John 8:44).

As always, Jesus did not revile those who reviled him. Rather, his only words about his tormenters as he hung on the cross were a tender plea to God for mercy on their behalf (Luke 23:34). He had come to the cross willingly, knowingly, and in submissive obedience to God—to die for others’ sins. Though the abuse and torture men heaped on him amounted to an agony beyond their ability to fathom, those were nothing compared to the wrath of God against the sin he bore on their behalf.

Jesus’s seven last sayings on the cross. As Christ hung on Calvary’s cross, he spoke seven times (see table 4.9 [p. 299]). His cries from the cross have struck a chord with believers throughout the ages. The last words uttered by a person before death have often held significance for their loved ones. Those from Christ’s lips are unparalleled in their richness. The seven might be presented in the following fashion:

       1.    A plea for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

       2.    A promise of salvation: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

       3.    A provision for his mother: “Woman, behold, your son!… Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27).

       4.    A petition to the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

       5.    A plea for relief: “I thirst” (John 19:28).

       6.    A proclamation of victory: “It is finished” (John 19:30).

       7.    A prayer of consummation: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus’s seven sayings on the cross are weighted with deep theological significance that helps believers better understand his person, character, suffering, and redemptive work.

       1.    A plea for forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Divine forgiveness consists of God forgoing his rightful retribution that sinners deserve for their sins committed against him. Jesus suffered pitiless violence at the hands of wicked men prior to and during his crucifixion. It was his right to demand their punishment for their crimes against him. However, Jesus willingly let go of that right and chose to forgive them unconditionally. He forgave them because, in his deity, he knew full well that they did not fully understand who he was and what they were doing.

As the God-man, Christ’s forgiveness comes from a sympathetic and compassionate human nature combined with divine power, righteousness, holiness, mercy, and grace through his deity (see Ex. 34:6–7). This cry for pardon reveals the inexorable nature of God’s sovereign plan to provide a Savior whose sacrifice would purchase the forgiveness that the blood of bulls and goats could never supply (Heb. 10:3; see Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:22). Thus, Jesus’s first words from the cross highlight what he came to accomplish: “redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:14), for those who would repent (Rom. 2:4).

       2.    A promise of salvation: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The second saying from the cross came as a response to the heartfelt request of one of the criminals crucified alongside Jesus:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39–42)

Again, as with the first saying, Jesus acted in his role as the God-man, exhibiting the attributes of both natures by means of his human sympathy and compassion and his divine omniscience. He knew that this man’s words revealed a truly repentant heart smitten with his own sin and desiring the mercy and forgiveness of the Savior. The promise reveals Christ’s deity in that only God can know the state of the heart and the ultimate destiny of any individual. The Gospel account indicates that Jesus died before the two criminals—when the executioners broke the legs of those two men, they found that Jesus had already expired (John 19:31–34). Therefore, Jesus made this promise to the repentant criminal, knowing that he would be in heaven first and would greet the man when he arrived. Jesus was numbered with the transgressors so that sinners like the thief might be numbered with the redeemed.

       3.    A provision for his mother: “Woman, behold, your son!… Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26–27).

One of the most poignant episodes occurring during Jesus’s crucifixion finds Jesus addressing the mother who had given him his humanity (Isa. 49:1). Simeon’s prophecy had come to its bitter fruition:

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34–35)

In Jesus’s statement here, Mary’s son gave all his attention to her and her need for care. To John, the disciple nearest to the heart of Jesus, the Savior committed the care of his most precious earthly relationship—his mother. In this the perfect man demonstrated his fulfillment of the command to honor one’s parents (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:2–3). He left to his followers a superb example of what he meant by instructing them to set a priority on caring for parents before presenting their gifts to God:

And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, “Honor your father and your mother,” and, “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.” But you say, “If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.” So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! (Matt. 15:3–7)

While Jesus gave his life completely as a sacrifice before his heavenly Father, he took pains to not make God’s Word void by failing to properly honor his mother, which demanded caring for her in her later years. Before his sacrifice was completed, he had cared for his mother as he ought—a deed all the more urgent since the silence of Scripture concerning Joseph seems to indicate that he had already died and left Mary as a widow.

       4.    A petition to the Father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

No man can fully fathom the significance of this cry from Jesus’s lips. Herein lies the mystery of the hypostatic union (see “Humanity” [p. 263]). The presence of darkness (Matt. 27:45) symbolized both the loss of fellowship’s light and the reality of abandonment.

The Father and the Son were not separated in their being or in their essence through this experience. The unity of the Trinity remained intact. The three-hour darkness occurred due to the wrath of the omnipresent Father who acted faithfully in his role to bring about the completion of Christ’s perfect, substitutionary sacrifice.

Some interpreters of the Bible have concluded that Jesus was merely reciting the words of Psalm 22:1 at this point. However, given that Psalm 22 is an extended prophecy about the crucifixion, the psalm actually presents a prophetic anticipation of Jesus’s heart cry as he bore the sins of the elect on the cross. Therefore, his statement should not be taken simply as a recitation of the psalm or a mere identification with the human sufferings of the psalmist.

The physical pains of crucifixion were nothing compared to the wrath of the Father poured out on Jesus. In anticipation of this event, Jesus sweat as blood in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). All of mankind’s worst fears about the horrors of hell were realized by Jesus as he received the due penalty for the sins of all who would believe in him. In that period of darkness, in some incomprehensible way, the Father had abandoned him. “Though there was surely no interruption in the Father’s love for Him as a Son, God nonetheless turned away from Him and forsook Him as our Substitute.”

This substitutionary aspect of Christ’s death does not rest on his physical death alone. Christ had to bear the outpouring of God’s unmitigated wrath against sin in order to satisfy justice completely. True substitutionary atonement therefore involved a painful sense of estrangement from the Father, expressed by Christ in his heartfelt petition in Matthew 27:46—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Although it was temporary, the agony Christ experienced in absorbing the Father’s wrath was the full equivalent of hell.

This is the suffering that Jesus anticipated in the garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “Let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). The “cup” refers to the greatest of all suffering for the perfectly sinless God-man—the wrath of God poured out on him when he was made to be a sin offering. A cup is often the symbol of divine wrath against sin in the Old Testament (Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15–17, 27–29; Lam. 4:21–22; Ezek. 23:31–34; Hab. 2:16). Christ would “bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28), and the fullness of divine wrath would fall on him (Isa. 53:10–11; 2 Cor. 5:21). This was the price of the sin he bore, which he paid in full. His cry of anguish in Matthew 27:46 reflected the extreme bitterness of the cup of wrath he was soon to receive.

Jesus’s suffering thus included his temporary separation from the Father (pictured by the three hours of darkness on the cross) while experiencing the fullness of divine wrath prior to his physical death. The subsequent seventh saying on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” ’ (Luke 23:46), demands this chronology, since it demonstrates the restoration of eternal fellowship because the temporary separation had ended. This sequence fits the experience of those for whom Jesus died—all are dead spiritually before they die physically. Christ first accomplished victory over spiritual death while still on the cross. Three days later he would be victorious over physical and eternal death when he rose from the dead.

       5.    A plea for relief: “I thirst” (John 19:28).

A single word in the Greek text, Jesus’s fifth saying from the cross reveals the humanness of this experience—physical thirst arising out of intense exhaustion and physical agony. Yet this very concise saying reveals more than his humanity; it reveals his knowledge of the Scriptures and his determination to fulfill all that the Scriptures said about him. The psalmist had written, “For my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink” (Ps. 69:21). John made a point of saying that Jesus’s statement was “to fulfill the Scripture” (John 19:28). And Jesus himself described thirst as a characteristic of the unrighteous in their experience after death (Luke 16:24). Again, apart from the existence of an eternal hell, the work of Christ on the cross cannot be fully understood and appreciated.

       6.    A proclamation of victory: “It is finished” (John 19:30).

The sixth saying of Jesus from the cross, like the previous saying, is but a single word in the Greek text: Tetelestai! His cry was triumphant and full of rich meaning since the Greek form implies that the state of completion would continue. Jesus did not refer to his earthly life as over; he meant that he had completed the work the Father had given him to accomplish. In fact, the statement in Psalm 22:31 is “He has done it”—also just one word in the Hebrew. Jesus celebrated the greatest triumph in the history of the universe, because his atoning work was finished. All the prophecies of the Scripture regarding the Messiah’s redemptive work had been fulfilled, and God’s justice was fully satisfied. Sin’s ransom was paid in full; the wages of sin were settled forever for all of God’s chosen throughout all history. All that remained for Christ to do was to die so that he might rise from the dead. Nothing can be added to the finished work of Christ for salvation.

       7.    A prayer of consummation: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).

Christ addressed his final statement from the cross to the Father, as he had in the first (“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” Luke 23:34) and the fourth (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt. 27:46). These three were prayers—the prayers of the Son of Man. In his humanity, Jesus lived as a man of prayer, and he died as a man of prayer (see Matt. 14:23; 19:13; 26:36–44; Heb. 5:7).

Christ died as no other man has ever died. In one sense, he was murdered by the hands of wicked men (Acts 2:23). In another sense, the Father sent him to the cross and put him to grief (Isa. 53:10). However, in still another sense, no one took Jesus’s life. He himself gave it up willingly for those whom he loved selflessly and sacrificially:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10:17–18)

When he breathed his last, there was no frantic struggle against his executioners. No witness observed any frenzied death throes. His final passage into death was a deliberate act of his own sovereign will. He “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Simply, quietly, submissively, he purposefully yielded up his life, in complete control of his dying.

Death and Atonement

The seven sayings on the cross present the death of Jesus as an experience that he purposefully and willingly entered. How he died is one thing; why he died is infinitely more important. The biblical fact is that his death was necessary, determined from before the foundation of the earth, and a necessity for the salvation of sinners.


Christian theology focuses on the saving work of Jesus Christ in his substitutionary death and his resurrection from the dead. These two truths form the gospel’s core message regarding salvation. The apostle Paul wrote,

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor. 15:1–5)

These two major elements of the gospel also appear in Paul’s defense before Agrippa: “I stand here testifying to both small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22–23).

The apostle Peter, speaking of “the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:9), outlined the same two-part work of Christ with regard to the gospel:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Pet. 1:10–12)

It should be noted that “inquiring what person or time” (1 Pet. 1:11) might also be understood as “inquiring what time or what character of time,” making the unknown aspects of messianic fulfillment only the timing. The prophets understood that they spoke about the Messiah. The Old Testament prophets revealed the person of the Messiah by means of a series of prophecies tying him to the line of Abraham (Gen. 12:3; see Gal. 3:8), the nation of Israel (Num. 24:17; see Matt. 2:2; Rev. 22:16), the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; see Matt. 1:2–3; 2:6; Heb. 7:14), the clan of Ephrathah in the town of Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; see Matt. 2:5–6; Luke 2:11), a virgin conception (Isa. 7:14; see Matt. 1:23), and a ministry to Galilee of the Gentiles (Isa. 9:1–2; see Matt. 4:12–16). Isaiah 53 provides a detailed prophecy of the Messiah’s ministry, rejection, trial, death, resurrection, and exaltation.


Old Testament Revelation about Sacrifice. Penal substitution means that Christ gave himself to suffer and die by bearing the full penalty for sin in the place of all the sinners whom God saves. God prepared mankind for the atoning, substitutionary sacrifice of Christ by providing early instruction about sacrifice. The Old Testament presents twelve basic principles regarding animal sacrifices:

       1.    Only believers should offer Old Testament sacrifices—believers who should be indoctrinated and obedient (i.e., exhibiting right teaching and right behavior). Leviticus 1:2–3 and 2:1 speak of Israelite believers, while Leviticus 17:8 and 22:18, 25 speak of foreign believers (cf. Num. 15:14–16; Isa. 56:6–8).

       2.    Old Testament sacrifices should be the outward demonstration of a vital faith. Without faith the sacrifices are worthless (Heb. 11:4; see 1 Sam. 15:22–23; Ps. 51:15–19; Isa. 1:11–15; Mic. 6:6–8).

       3.    Old Testament sacrifices do not save from sin or forgive sins. Levitical sacrifices include no provision for removing or doing away with any individual’s sinful nature. Animal sacrifices are insufficient to fully and finally atone for the sins of human beings—only a human life can fully atone for a human life (cf. Lev. 1:3 with Ps. 49:5–9; see Gal. 3:10–14; Heb. 10:1–18; 1 Pet. 1:18–19).

       4.    Old Testament sacrifices do not eliminate temporal punishment for sin, especially willful, defiant sin. Many sins require capital punishment—no animal sacrifice can avail for such sin (Lev. 24:10–23; Num. 15:30). Premeditated, deliberate sin requires the death of the sinner. Therefore, due to the pattern of voluntary, deliberate sin, each individual finds himself under sentence of death, and due to the universality of sin, death reigns, as evidenced by the genealogies recording those deaths (Gen. 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31). “Died” as a repetitious term provides the epitaph for person after person (see also Gen. 11:32; 23:2; 35:19; 50:26). This raises a fitting pair of questions: Is there really no sacrifice for deliberate sin? And is there no forgiveness for such deliberate rebellion?

       5.    Old Testament sacrifices have as their chief object fellowship with God. They outwardly symbolize forgiveness for sins, which brought a measured reconciliation with the covenant-keeping God of Israel (Ex. 29:42–43; 30:36). According to John Oswalt,

While temporal punishment for sin is serious and ought not to be dismissed, it is by no means as serious as spiritual punishment: alienation from God. This is what the entire sacrificial system is about: making it possible for sinful humans to have fellowship with a holy God. The sacrifices do not mitigate the temporal effects of sin, so what do they do? They deal with the spiritual effects of sin; they address the truths that the soul that sins shall die (not merely physically; Ezek. 18:4, 20), and that there is no forgiveness for sin apart from the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22).

       6.    Old Testament sacrifices declare, emphasize, and magnify sin and its consequences (Rom. 3:19–20; 5:20; 7:5–11; Gal. 3:21–22).

       7.    Old Testament sacrifices declare, emphasize, and magnify God’s holiness, righteousness, love, grace, mercy, and sovereignty (Ps. 119:62; Neh. 9:13; Matt. 23:23; Rom. 7:12). The combination of these two declarations concerning sin and the character of God expresses the dual function of sacrifice in the Old Testament. On the one hand, sin is essentially “theofugal”—it leads mankind away from God. On the other hand, sacrifice, which by its bloodshed displays the terrible nature and consequences of sin, is theocentric, turning sinners’ attention to God. They begin to see the effects of their sin on God. Their sin is enmity against God, alienating them from God and proving their rebellion against divine authority and character. Their sacrifices propitiate God’s just wrath and reconcile them to God.

       8.    Old Testament sacrifices demonstrate that the Mosaic legislation offers the Old Testament believer no independent access to God (Heb. 9:8–10).

       9.    Old Testament sacrifices demonstrate that God’s desire with regard to his people’s offerings (giving) does not exceed their normal ability. The sacrificial objects (cattle, sheep, goats, doves; flour, oil, wine, and frankincense) are all immediately available to the individual Israelite. God does not require that his people bring something exotic or beyond their normal means. He does not require them to extend themselves to the point of either financial discomfort or disaster (see 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8–9).

     10.    Old Testament sacrifices emphasize the ministry of the priesthood (Lev. 1:9; 2:8; 4:20; 6:6; Hebrews 5–10; 1 Pet. 2:5).

     11.    Old Testament sacrifices involve the recognition of God’s covenant with his people (Lev. 2:13; Ps. 50:5, 16).

     12.    God commands Old Testament sacrifices in part to sustain the priesthood. The covenant community provides for those who minister (Lev. 7:34–35; Neh. 13:5; Mal. 3:8–10).

In summary, these twelve principles provide evidence that sacrifices deal primarily with corporate worship. They are corporate in the sense that Old Testament believers bring offerings publicly to the sanctuary, where the priests participate in the accompanying rituals. Benefits from the sacrifices might be personal or individual, but there is no private sacrifice. The Passover lamb might appear to be private since it involves one household, but passersby can see the blood on the doorposts at the entrance to the home—and the lamb can be shared with a neighbor (Ex. 12:4). Old Testament sacrifices are confessional, because they demonstrate repentant faith in Yahweh and obedience to his statutes and laws. By offering sacrifices, the Old Testament believer identifies himself outwardly with the covenant God and his covenant people. That outward demonstration ought to be the result of true faith. However, when that initiating faith is absent, the sacrifice is worthless—an empty gesture, devoid of any spiritual value (i.e., a false confession). God hates false sacrifice and cannot accept it as true worship (see 1 Sam. 15:22; Ps. 50:7–15; Isa. 1:13–15).

With these principles in mind, the reader can consider how the Old Testament deals with penal substitutionary sacrifices. The ram provided by the “angel [messenger] of the Lord” as a substitute for Isaac in Genesis 22:1–14 illustrates the giving of a life as a substitute. Eugene Merrill offers an excellent treatment in his volume on Old Testament theology, where he states that Isaac’s own death “was enacted through a substitute, an animal whose literal death provided full satisfaction to God’s demands.”

Old Testament Revelation about Christ’s Substitutionary Sacrifice. The different sacrifices described and commanded in the book of Leviticus provided Israel with God’s instruction regarding the nature of sacrifice and helped prepare them for the necessity of the Messiah’s substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Table 4.10 identifies some of the lessons that God intended his people to learn from the sacrifices in the Old Testament. Table 4.11 compares Jesus Christ’s own sacrifice to the sacrifices under the Mosaic legislation.

To understand the relationship of the Old Testament sacrificial system to the person of the Messiah, several key texts must be examined more closely. The most significant of these texts are Exodus 12 (the Passover festival), Leviticus 16 (the Day of Atonement), and, perhaps most important of all, Isaiah 52:13–53:12. The Passover and the Day of Atonement represent two of the chief religious festivals in Israel’s calendar, all of which introduce concepts involved in the person and work of the Messiah (see table 4.12).

Exodus 12: The Passover. In concluding the plagues just prior to Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God instituted the Passover observance in which the lamb of the Passover served as a substitutionary sacrifice for the Israelites’ firstborn sons. In Exodus 12:3, the Lord instructs Moses concerning the sacrifice of the Passover lamb: “Every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.” The phrase “for a household” might imply substitution. In fact, the sacrifice appears to forestall the penalty of death for those who are within the household—especially firstborn sons. Although the lamb signifies substitution, the text does not state that the blood atones for or expiates sin; it only protects and preserves the household from temporal judgment.

Table 4.10 Christ in the Levitical Offerings

Offering  Scripture Passages  Christ’s Provision  Christ’s Character  
Burnt offering  Lev. 1:3–17; 6:8–13  Atonement  Christ’s sinless nature  
Grain offering  Lev. 2:1–16; 6:14–23  Dedication/consecration  Christ was wholly devoted to the Father’s purposes  
Peace offering  Lev. 3:1–17; 7:11–36  Reconciliation/fellowship  Christ was at peace with God  
Sin offering  Lev. 4:1–5:13; 6:24–30  Propitiation  Christ’s substitutionary death  
Trespass offering  Lev. 5:14–6:7; 7:1–10  Repentance  Christ paid it all for redemption  

Table 4.11 Old Testament Sacrifices Compared to Christ’s Sacrifice

Leviticus  Scripture Passages  Hebrews  
Old covenant (temporary)  Heb. 7:22; 8:6, 13; 10:20  New covenant (permanent)  
Obsolete promises  Heb. 8:6–13  Better promises  
A shadow  Heb. 8:5; 9:23–24; 10:1  The reality  
Aaronic priesthood (many)  Heb. 6:19–7:25  Melchizedekian priesthood (one)  
Sinful priesthood  Heb. 7:26–27; 9:7  Sinless priest  
Limited-by-death priesthood  Heb. 7:16–17, 23–24  Forever priesthood  
Daily sacrifices  Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 25–26; 10:9–10, 12  Once-for-all sacrifice  
Animal sacrifices  Heb. 9:11–15, 26; 10:4–10, 19  Sacrifice of God’s Son  
Ongoing sacrifices  Heb. 10:11–14, 18  Sacrifices no longer needed  
One-year atonement  Heb. 7:25; 9:12, 15; 10:1–4, 12  Eternal propitiation  

Table 4.12 Christ Fulfills Israel’s Feasts

The Feasts (Leviticus 23)  Christ’s Fulfillment  
Passover (March/April)  Death of Christ (1 Cor. 5:7)  
Unleavened bread (March/April)  Sinlessness of Christ (1 Cor. 5:8)  
Firstfruits (March/April)  Resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:23)  
Pentecost (May/June)  Outpouring of the Spirit of Christ (Acts 1:5; 2:4)  
Trumpets (September/October)  Israel’s regathering by Christ (Matt. 24:31)  
Atonement (September/October)  Substitutionary sacrifice by Christ (Rom. 11:26)  
Booths (September/October)  Rest and reunion with Christ (Zech. 14:16–19)  

In Exodus 12:12, the Lord says that he will execute judgment as he passes through the land of Egypt. Israelites who follow the instructions and apply the blood of the slaughtered lamb to the doorposts of their houses will escape that judgment (Ex. 12:13, 23, 27). And the obedient Israelites do indeed escape death (Ex. 12:30). What have the Israelites done that would merit death? Why would they be subject to death and judgment like the Egyptians? Two texts help explain the matter. Exodus 12:12 indicates that the death of the firstborn of Egypt brought judgment against the gods of the Egyptians. Ezekiel 20:4–10 reveals that the Israelites worshiped idols while in Egypt (esp. 20:7–8), a reality Joshua 24:14 confirms: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” Indeed, Israelite idolatry in Egypt causes the Lord to respond in wrath and to pour out judgment on them (Ezek. 20:8). Just like the Egyptians, the Israelites come under the sentence of death. What a surprise that proves to be to the Israelites, who are comfortable with the preceding sequence of nine plagues—as long as the Egyptians are the ones suffering. But the Israelites had sinned like the Egyptians, and therefore, in the tenth plague God reveals his people’s sins as well as his provision for their salvation. Yahweh’s judgments on the gods of Egypt prove that he alone can deliver one from sin’s penalty of death. Psalm 49 teaches the same truth but focuses on mankind being unable to muster up such deliverance—only God can provide the “ransom” payment that he requires (Ps. 49:7–9, 15). As Merrill points out with reference to Psalm 49:14–15, “This glimpse into immortality, if not resurrection, marks a high point of Old Testament revelation with respect to the matter of the state of the righteous after death and in the hereafter.”

By providing the Passover sacrifice, the Lord graciously spares guilty Israelites by means of the sacrificial blood of animals and preserves his own holiness by fulfilling his promises to deliver his people out of Egypt (Ex. 12:12–13; see Lev. 22:32–33). According to Leon Morris, “The obvious symbolism is that a death has taken place, and this death substitutes for the death of the firstborn.” Bruce Waltke agrees, describing the Passover lamb as “both substitutionary and propitiatory. It nullifies God’s wrath against sinful people because it satisfies God’s holiness.” Once again it is evident that divine wrath on sinners relates to the penalty aspect of penal substitution. The New Testament confirms the substitutionary nature of the Passover sacrifice. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul, at minimum, draws an analogy between the substitutionary nature of the Passover lamb and Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. Thus, it is no surprise to see that Jesus was crucified during Passover (Matt. 26:2).

Leviticus 16: The Day of Atonement. Merrill Unger presents the following overview of the first three books of the Torah: “Genesis is the book of beginnings, Exodus the book of redemption, and Leviticus the book of atonement and a holy walk. In Genesis we see man ruined; in Exodus, man redeemed; in Leviticus, man cleansed, worshiping and serving.” Leviticus speaks of more than just cleansing for sinners and preparation for worship. It describes how sinful persons might enter the presence of the holy God. Leviticus deals with mankind’s spiritual relationship to God by means of sacrificial rituals that prefigure the atoning death of Christ. Some refer to Leviticus as the seedbed of New Testament theology. On the one hand, the holiness theme of Leviticus reveals the bad news that God’s holiness cannot allow for sinful human beings to have access to him. On the other hand, however, Leviticus presents the good news that God provides a means for sinners to be accepted and to enter his presence through sacrifices.

Of all the sacrifices and festivals, the Day of Atonement exceeds all others in its significance to Israel’s relationship to Yahweh. The historical setting of Leviticus is found in God’s judgment on the priests Nadab and Abihu (Lev. 10:1–20)—a stark reminder of the holiness of God and its incompatibility with human sinfulness. Emphasis thus falls on the necessity of atonement even for the priests’ sins. If the priests are defiled, they cannot mediate between the people and God. Without mediators, sinful Israelites cannot approach God’s presence, and God’s presence cannot continue to reside in their midst.

The “scapegoat” (Lev. 16:8–10) symbolizes the removal of sin from the presence of God’s glory in the midst of his people (see Ps. 103:12; Mic. 7:19). “Scapegoat” (William Tyndale’s translation of the Hebrew term ‘azazel) is not mentioned again in the Old Testament or the New Testament. On the Day of Atonement both the scapegoat and the other goat sufficed as a sin offering (Lev. 16:5). Some interpreters see an allusion to the scapegoat in Isaiah 53:6 and Hebrews 13:12. ‘Azazel is most likely a general reference to the wilderness to which the goat was banished. Good arguments can be made for taking the Hebrew term as meaning “removal.” Whatever the meaning, it does not materially alter the essential nature of the ritual.

The description of laying hands on the head of the goat (Lev. 16:21–22) pictures the transfer of sins from Israel to the living goat. It serves as their substitute—condemned to die in the wilderness, isolated from Israel. The scapegoat carries away on it “all the iniquities” of the Israelites (Lev. 16:22). In addition, Leviticus 16:24, 29–34 indicates that the entire ritual provides atonement for the sins of the priests as well as the people. Snaith, discussing the views of Rabbi Ishmael, mentions that “in all cases of deliberate sin, the Day of Atonement at most combines with repentance to suspend punishment, but is never itself efficacious even for that, still less for atonement.” There is a certain sense in which Rabbi Ishmael is correct. Paul wrote that God displayed Jesus Christ “as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Rom. 3:25). The Day of Atonement anticipated the Messiah’s propitiatory sacrifice by his blood. Thus, having planned it just that way (see Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:18–21; Rev. 13:8), God could suspend the penalty in light of its ultimate, full removal through Christ’s perfect and complete atonement. Suspension of the temporal penalty applies equally to believer and unbeliever alike within Israel, because the “grace period” involves the temporary benefits of remote substitution, as compared to the permanent and full application of intimate substitution after Christ’s death.

Does the ritual of the Day of Atonement indicate the penal aspect of substitution explicitly or implicitly? The Hebrew word for “ransom” (koper) represents the concept of “substitute” because it depicts that means by which evil or guilt is transferred and thereby eliminated. The term carries this meaning in the following situations:

•     the law of census in which the ransom averts the penalty of plague when the law is violated (Ex. 30:12–16)

•     laws regarding homicide in which death is the penalty for the crime (Num. 35:31–33; Deut. 21:1–9)

•     the matter of the Levites guarding the sanctuary’s sanctity to avert wrath, plague, and death on the congregation (Num. 1:53; 8:19; 18:22–23; compare these with the case of Phinehas in 25:11; Ps. 106:30–31)

•     the inability of Babylon to ransom herself from divine judgment (Isa. 47:11; see Ps. 49:7–9)

•     the atoning significance of the sacrifice’s blood (Lev. 17:11)

Thus, the use of the term koper as “ransom” relates explicitly to both substitution and penalty.

The Day of Atonement stands as the central observance of the sacrificial system in the book of Leviticus. It emphasizes, more than any other Jewish observance, the holiness of God and the sinfulness of his people. For Israel the Day of Atonement provided symbolic cleansing or purification so that they might have access to the worship of Yahweh. Therefore, the Day of Atonement provides a symbol of the real atonement by the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8–10). The chief point of Hebrews (see Heb. 8:1) is in direct contrast to the chief point of the Mosaic law (see Heb. 9:8). In summary, the Day of Atonement temporally and temporarily expiated the nation’s sins, cleansed the sanctuary from the pollution caused by those sins, and removed those sins from the community, so that God accepted their worship. This was not personal salvation, which was always by faith alone (Rom. 4:13).

Isaiah 52:13–53:12: The suffering servant’s sacrifice. This is truly the first Gospel, followed by the other four in the New Testament. It reveals seven hundred years before his coming the life and work of the one true and perfect Sacrifice who actually took away sin. Isaiah first describes the sufferings of the servant of Yahweh whose griefs and sorrows are not his own. That fact identifies the servant’s sufferings as substitutionary: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). The substitutionary imagery of Isaiah 53:6—“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”—is drawn straight from Leviticus 16. The vicarious elements in Christ’s sufferings in his death relate quite closely to the substitutionary elements in Isaiah 52:13–53:12. Second, the language of Isaiah 53 clearly includes the penal aspect (see 53:5, “pierced … crushed … chastisement … wounds”). Third, key New Testament references include an apparent echo of Isaiah 53, such as in Matthew 26:28: “For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (see also Rom. 8:3; Gal. 1:4; Heb. 5:3; 10:8, 18, 26; 13:11; 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

The servant of Yahweh voluntarily bore the penalty for the iniquities of “many.” His sacrificial death did not occur by some sort of abuse or forced action. Rather, he purposefully decided, accepted, and submitted to his suffering. Isaiah 53:10 (“when his soul makes an offering for guilt”) and 53:12 (“poured out his soul to death”) make that same point regarding the servant’s voluntary sacrifice. Eugene Merrill states that the prophet himself understood what he was writing:

By reflection on his person and experience, it became clear to the prophet that this servant of the Lord was suffering vicariously for us, that is, for Israel and, by extension, for the whole world (vv. 4–6).… Most astounding of all, what he did was in compliance with the will of God who, through the servant’s death and subsequent resurrection (thus implicitly in vv. 10b–11a), will justify sinners on the basis of the servant’s substitutionary role (v. 11b). Then finally, in God’s time, he will reign triumphant, having gained victory over sin and death (v. 12).

Indeed, Yahweh’s servant meets all the requirements for being a substitutionary sacrifice: (1) identification with condemned sinners (“for the transgression of my people,” Isa. 53:8), (2) being blameless and without any stain or spot to mar his sacrifice (“no violence … no deceit,” 53:9; “the righteous one,” 53:11), and (3) being acceptable to Yahweh (“it was the will of the Lord to crush him,” 53:10).

In the ritual of the Day of Atonement, the scapegoat could not be slaughtered as a sacrifice because it carried the sins of Israel, thereby making it unclean. If the servant of the Lord were a mere human being (the prophet himself or even the nation of Israel), the same problem would arise. This is one reason why sinful people cannot serve as the ransom or atonement price for anyone else (see Ps. 49:7–9). Such revealed truths make it necessary that Yahweh’s servant in Isaiah 53 be someone who cannot be tainted even by carrying or bearing the sins of many—in other words, he must be a person of the Godhead. Christ’s death corresponds to the ritual of the scapegoat, because Jesus (1) bore the people’s sins (2 Cor. 5:21; see Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 2:24), and (2) died outside the camp (Heb. 13:12; see Matt. 21:39; Luke 20:15; John 19:17).

It must also be noted that the phrase “by oppression and judgment” (or “justice,” Isa. 53:8) refers to the judicial aspect of the penalty that the servant bore. Translations vary for the line “when his soul makes an offering for guilt” (53:10). The Lord’s servant becomes a guilt offering, a sin-bearing sacrifice that imputes righteousness. Why does the prophet identify the sacrifice of Yahweh’s servant as a guilt offering (’asham)? It could refer generally to any expiatory sacrifice. David Baron distinguishes between the guilt offering and the sin offering as follows: “While the sin offering looked to the sinful state of the offerer, the trespass offering was appointed to meet actual transgressions, the fruit of the sinful state. The sin offering set forth propitiation, the trespass offering set forth satisfaction.” Satisfaction refers to the fact that Christ paid for the elect every sin-debt owed to God. The guilt offering involves both unintentional sin (Lev. 5:15–19) and intentional sin (such as theft or fraud, Lev. 6:1–5; 19:20–22). Since most sacrifices deal only with unintentional sin, any ultimately efficacious atoning sacrifice must go beyond those sacrifices to provide expiation for intentional sins. This answers the earlier question regarding the availability of sacrifice for deliberate sin. Yes, the servant’s perfect sacrifice takes care of deliberate sin and provides forgiveness for planned rebellion. In addition, the guilt offering, rather than purifying, sanctifies; it reconsecrates Israel as a holy nation, restoring the people to the land and to their God. The servant’s perfect guilt offering meets these needs—needs unmet by the Levitical system.

Motyer summarizes verse 11 by pointing out six separate elements of the atoning work of Yahweh’s servant:

Isaiah 53:11 is one of the fullest statements of atonement theology ever penned. (i) The Servant knows the needs to be met and what must be done. (ii) As “that righteous one, my servant” he is both fully acceptable to the God our sins have offended and has been appointed by him to his task. (iii) As righteous, he is free from every contagion of our sin. (iv) He identified himself personally with our sin and need. (v) The emphatic pronoun “he” underlines his personal commitment to this role. (vi) He accomplishes the task fully. Negatively, in the bearing of iniquity; positively, in the provision of righteousness.

Therefore, there should be no doubt that the servant’s sacrifice was vicarious and substitutionary (penal substitution—bearing the penalty for sin). His was the one true and satisfactory sacrifice to God.

The New Testament writers rightly understood the plain intent of the prophet, finding every reason to take the text as directly messianic. Note the parallels between the servant passage in Isaiah and Mark 10:43–45 as one example: The suffering servant of Yahweh (Isa. 52:13) is the “slave of all” (Mark 10:44; cf. Isa. 53:6, “of us all”), who is “great” (Mark 10:43) because he is “high and lifted up, and shall be exalted” (Isa. 52:13). As “slave,” he gave himself (lit., “his soul”) as a guilt offering (Isa. 53:10)—the direct equivalent of “to give his life [lit., soul] as a ransom” (Mark 10:45). The servant’s guilt offering / ransom went above and beyond the penalty of sacrifice to cover intentional as well as unintentional sin in the place of “many” (Mark 10:45; Isa. 52:14–15; 53:12).

The atoning work of Christ accomplished salvation for the elect. Jesus Christ is Savior—“there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12; see 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 2:13). His blood cleanses from sin (Heb. 13:12; 1 John 1:7). He is the Mediator of the new covenant (Heb. 12:24). As Savior, Christ gives life to believers in the present (2 Cor. 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:1) and is himself the pattern for the future resurrection of believers (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Thess. 4:14). Christ, by his atoning work, is the Shepherd who makes it possible for believers to do good works (Heb. 13:20–21). He is the One in whom the church is placed and blessed (Eph. 2:13).

Resurrection and Ascension

Without the resurrection of Christ, his sacrificial death fails to provide the ground for salvation from sin (1 Cor. 15:13–19). Therefore, no consideration of the biblical teaching regarding the work of Christ can end with his atoning death.


Since both Jesus and the New Testament writers declare that the significant facts concerning Christ had already been revealed through the prophets of the Old Testament (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47; Acts 2:25–32; 1 Cor. 15:3–4), it is important to consider the textual evidence to support their claim. Another factor that imposes a challenge in seeing Christ’s resurrection in the Old Testament arises from the way that New Testament writers tend to refer to his resurrection obliquely, by speaking of his “glory.” For example, Peter explains that the Old Testament prophets were “inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories” (1 Pet. 1:11). The display of Jesus’s glory is most often associated with his second advent, not his resurrection. Without a resurrection from the dead, the crucified Christ cannot return in glory: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26; see also Matt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; Mark 10:37; Luke 9:26; John 17:5).

The apostle Paul correlates Jesus’s resurrection with the divine glory—“just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4)—which further explains the association of glory and resurrection in the minds of both prophets and apostles. In fact, he uses an analogy concerning glory in his treatise on resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:40–41: “There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” The resurrected body is “raised in glory” (1 Cor. 15:43), and the believer’s resurrection shares that same glory: “When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

Therefore, when searching the Old Testament for references to the Messiah’s resurrection, readers must pay proper attention to references to his glory. So Psalm 24 speaks of the Messiah in his role as “the King of glory” (24:7–10) when he comes to reign as king in Jerusalem. At that time, “the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed, for the Lord of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and his glory will be before his elders” (Isa. 24:23).

According to Ezekiel, the glory of Yahweh departed from the temple and the city to rest briefly on the mountain east of the city: “The glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city” (Ezek. 11:23). At the time of the future millennial temple, the glory of Yahweh will reenter the temple from the same direction—from the east:

And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court. (Ezek. 43:2–5)

Zechariah expounds on this prophecy by specifying the Mount of Olives as the site to the east of the city and the Messiah as the one with divine glory: “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward” (Zech. 14:4). This coincides exactly with the statement that the angels delivered at the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives following his resurrection from the dead: “ ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’ ” (Acts 1:11).

Several Old Testament references to the Messiah’s resurrection appear in Job and the Psalter. The salient passage from Job reads as follows:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,

and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,

yet in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see for myself,

and my eyes shall behold, and not another. (Job 19:25–27)

Since Job speaks of seeing his Redeemer following his own death (implied by the destruction of his own flesh) and since he sees him standing on the earth, the implied time reference has to be after the second advent of the Messiah.

Another important text appears in Psalm 16:10:

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,

or let your holy one see corruption.

Both Peter and Paul discuss this text later. In Acts 2:22–31, Peter says,

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,

“I saw the Lord always before me,

for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;

therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;

my flesh also will dwell in hope.

For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,

or let your Holy One see corruption.

You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

In treating Psalm 16:10, Paul similarly explains (Acts 13:34–37),

And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way,

“I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.”

Therefore he says also in another psalm,

“You will not let your Holy One see corruption.”

For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption, but he whom God raised up did not see corruption.

According to Paul, therefore, Christ’s resurrection was prerequisite to his someday occupying David’s throne on earth.

In addition, Peter cites Psalm 110:1 right after his exegesis of Psalm 16:10:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“The Lord says to my Lord:

‘Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” (Acts 2:32–35)

In other words, the very fact that the Messiah takes his seat at the right hand of the Father proves that he has risen from the dead. His exaltation (equivalent to his glory) assumes that he is no longer in the grave. Since David is not sitting at the right hand of the Father, it is obvious to Peter that David was speaking not of himself but of his future descendant, the greater Son of David. Jesus already used Psalm 110:1 to reveal to the Pharisees that he was indeed the Lord (Matt. 22:41–46), so Peter is merely passing on what Jesus taught.


Jesus himself announced beforehand that he would rise from the dead:

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matt. 17:9)

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” (Luke 18:31–33)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19–22)

All four Gospel writers are unanimous in recording that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1–10; Mark 16:1–11; Luke 24:1–12; John 20:1–10). Table 4.13 displays Jesus’s postresurrection appearances.


When Jesus rose from the dead, he experienced a bodily resurrection entailing his full humanity. His resurrection body allowed him to digest food: “And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them” (Luke 24:41–43; see Acts 10:41). Other human beings who were still in their mortal flesh could touch Jesus’s body: “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matt. 28:9; see Luke 24:38–40; John 20:17). The wounds of Jesus’s crucifixion remained present and visible in his resurrected body, as witnessed by Thomas, the doubting disciple:

Table 4.13 Christ’s Post-Resurrection Appearances

Appearance  Matthew  Mark  Luke  John  Acts  1 Corinthians  
To Mary Magdalene at the tomb     16:9–11     20:11–18        
To the other women on the road  28:9–10     24:9–11           
To two disciples traveling to Emmaus     16:12–13  24:13–32           
To Peter        24:34        15:5a  
To the ten assembled disciples        24:36–43  20:19–25        
To the eleven assembled disciples     16:14     20:26–31     15:5b  
To the seven disciples fishing           21:1–23        
To the eleven disciples in Galilee  28:16–20  16:15–18              
To over five hundred people                 15:6  
To James, his brother                 15:7a  
To all the apostles        24:44–49     1:4–8  15:7b  
To all the disciples at his ascension     16:19  24:50–53     1:4–11     
To Paul on the road to Damascus              9:1–6; 18:9–10; 22:6–11; 26:12–18  15:8  
To Paul imprisoned in Jerusalem              23:11     

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:25–29)

Jesus will forever be fully God as well as fully man. He is the last Adam, the Head of the church, and the representative Head of all redeemed mankind. This fact of his continuing humanity is as significant for the accomplishment of redemption as is his continuing deity. Christ had to be man to represent believers in living a holy life on earth that could be imputed to believers and to be their sacrificial substitute on the cross. He also had to be their leader through death into resurrection.

Christ’s resurrection achieved the following vast and glorious results:

       1.    The fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies (see “Old Testament Revelation about Christ’s Resurrection” [p. 315])

       2.    The fulfillment of Jesus’s own predictions (see “New Testament History of Christ’s Resurrection” [p. 318])

       3.    Confirmation of the Son’s deity (Rom. 1:4)

       4.    The exaltation of the Father, manifesting his perfections (Acts 2:23–24; Rom. 6:4)

       5.    The perfection of Jesus’s obedience to his Father’s will (John 10:17–18)

       6.    Proof that the Father accepted the atoning work of Christ in his sacrificial death on the cross (Rom. 4:25)

       7.    Provision of regeneration for the elect (1 Pet. 1:3)

       8.    Assurance that believers will not perish due to their sins (1 Cor. 15:17–18)

       9.    Securing the justification of believers and assurance that they will never be condemned by God (Rom. 8:1–11, 31–34)

     10.    Opening the way for Christ to send the Holy Spirit to indwell believers and form them into the church, the body of Christ (John 16:7)

     11.    Declaration of Christ as the Head of the church and ruler of creation (Eph. 1:19–23; Col. 1:15–19)

     12.    Establishment of God’s pattern of power in spiritually raising believers from spiritual death in their trespasses (Eph. 1:19–20; 2:1–6)

     13.    Motivation for spiritual living, since believers are already seated with Christ in heaven and assured of being with him in glory (Eph. 2:5–6; Col. 3:1–4)

     14.    Rendering of mandatory, valid, and fruitful service for Christ (Rom. 7:4; 1 Cor. 15:14, 58)

     15.    Encouragement to establish the first day of the week for worshiping Christ and serving him in local assemblies (Matt. 28:1; John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2)

     16.    Establishment of an unshakable foundation for hope (confident expectation) for God to fulfill all his promises (Rom. 8:23–25; 1 Cor. 15:19–20; 1 Pet. 1:3)

     17.    The guarantee of a future resurrection life for all believers (John 5:26–29; 14:19; Rom. 4:25; 6:5–10; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23)

     18.    Confirmation of the future fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (Acts 2:29–36; 13:34–37)

     19.    The guarantee that Christ will judge the world (John 5:24–30; Acts 17:31)

     20.    The glorification and exaltation of the Son with the glory he once shared with the Father (John 17:5; Phil. 2:8–9; 1 Pet. 1:10–11, 20–21)

There exists no greater event in redemption history than the resurrection of Christ, because it completes and validates his sacrificial death and advances the program of the kingdom with an eternally living King. The resurrection must be believed in order for someone to experience salvation (Rom. 10:9–10).


Scripture teaches that Christ ascended back into heaven to be seated at the right hand of his Father, and this teaching is essential because it is associated with the superiority of the Son of God:

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”?

Or again,

“I will be to him a father,

and he shall be to me a son”?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,

and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” (Heb. 1:3–9)

The disciples had heard from Jesus that he was going to ascend to his Father:

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” (John 16:16–17; see 7:33–34; 8:21; 14:19, 28–29)

Jesus fulfilled his declarations, physically departing from the earth and ascending to heaven from the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9–11). The Father received him into his glory (1 Tim. 3:16), and Christ is now seated on the throne of the Father (Rev. 3:21), at his right hand (Acts 5:31; Eph. 1:19–20), the throne of the universal and eternal kingdom of God (Mark 16:19; Acts 5:31; 7:55–56; Eph. 1:19–20). His session on the Father’s throne testifies to the reality of his completed work of redemption (Heb. 10:12–13; 12:2).

Christ’s ascension was confirmed by the visions of Stephen (Acts 7:55–56), Paul (Acts 9:3–5; 22:6–8; 26:13–15), and John (Rev. 4:1; 5:6). For Paul, Jesus’s ascension left a lasting impression and was a key element in his salvation experience—the living, risen, ascended, heavenly Messiah spoke to him from heaven.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 255–322). Crossway.