APrayer of Jesus I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to him! (Mark 9:7)For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.Jesus, Luke 9:24
When Jesus: the Rock of Offense was published in 1995, I was yet in a transition period in regard to my views on Paul, and the book shows much evidence of that. In addition, I have only recently come to realize that salvation has three tiers, that of the innocents, that of the penitents and that of the infants. This chapter continues to be as valid as ever in regard to the salvation of the infants, for this is the only salvation available to those who, like me, have heard the utterances of Jesus; and everyone who reads this book is surely being exposed to his words. I have revised it only to remove the last remnants of my early and once high respect for the false prophet, Paul, whose doctrines I once vigorously preached, to my present chagrin.
The Concept of Eternal Salvation
Salvation depends solely on the attitude to life. This is the foundation of all Jesus' teachings. Read it again:Whoever would save his life will lose it (Mark 8:35).At first this does not seem to make sense. But it does, for Jesus is only stating the contrast and mutual exclusiveness of the interests of temporal life in this world and eternal life in the Father's glory. Simply put, the meaning is that whoever seeks to save his life, in time, will lose it forever. Then he immediately continues,...and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it" (Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24).This is the other side of Truth. When one willingly loses the temporal life for Jesus' sake, one will save it for life eternal. Salvation therefore applies to life so that when Jesus speaks of salvation, he means the salvation of your life.
The preachers have obscured the real meaning and deep significance of salvation as it applies to life by diverting the emphasis to the soul. It is typical of them to speak of the need of forgiveness of sin and the salvation of one's soul without mentioning the fundamental attitude to life upon which that salvation is wholly dependent. When we hear that the topic is the salvation of the soul, we understand immediately that a purely religious subject is under consideration, and there is no reason to apply it to life. When one begins to think or to speak of the saving of life, rather than the saving of the soul, different ideas come into play. One is likely to respond by questioning how or in what manner one's life is in jeopardy, since there is no apparent threat or danger. It would then be appropriate to enlighten such an individual about the crucial significance of the attitude to life. I mean that if one is of a mind to save this life, it is utterly lost and in great need of salvation. The perception of safety can be very deceptive. So, when Jesus speaks of salvation, the emphasis is on the salvation of life that is solely dependent on the attitude to life. When Jesus looked out over the world, he saw a great loss – not of souls, but of life! Consider this utterance from John's Gospel:
The Salvation of Life and of the WorldI am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:9,10).Jesus is the door. To enter through him is to be saved. But what is saved? Life, for he immediately states that as the motive of his coming to earth. So also in this passage from Luke, he frames his motive for coming in terms of the salvation of life:...for the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives but to save them (Luke 9:56).Jesus came into the world, then, to save men's lives. That is the focus of his salvation, for he did not speak of the salvation of the soul.
He also spoke of his motive in coming as the saving of the world:If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47).He presents the purpose of his coming in an even more general sense in yet another utterance,
For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).The Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost (Matthew 18:11; Luke 19:10).I conclude from these utterances that the world was lost because the women and men of the world were lost. They were lost because their lives were lost, and Jesus had come to seek and to save the lost lives of the women and men of the world.
Now, how is the lostness of the world related to that of the lives of people?
Viewing this question in the light of the preceding chapters and the utterances discussed therein, the answer becomes clear. The Father desires children with whom to share his eternal life in glory (Isaiah 43:6,7). As children, they will be like him in every way, being complete (perfect), as he is perfect (Matthew 5:48). They will therefore also be possessors of the freedom of the will. It follows that they will not inhabit Glory until they wish to do so. Otherwise, they would not retain the freedom of the will. What, then, are they to inhabit, and how are they to derive and maintain their being until they want to inhabit Glory? The solution to this problem was the creation of the world. The Father called it into existence for the sole purpose of providing an alternative to Glory, until the children freely choose the Glory of the Father. The lives of his children were lost to his Glory, and that is what Jesus came to save. By convincing men and women to hate their lives in the world so as to enter the Father's Glory, he would redeem the world to the fulfillment of its only justifying purpose. That is all that is necessary to fulfill his purpose. He would save the women and men who were lost through the misdirected will to live in the world. This is the sole significance of the salvation of men and women, and of the salvation of the world.
The Purpose of the World
The persons who are to become children of God through Christ are now being saved for his Glory through the redirection of the will-to-live. The world is being saved, or redeemed, because it has begun to fulfill the sole purpose of its creation. The lives of the children are being saved for Eternity, and the world is responding positively to the rule of God. Therefore we know that, precisely as Jesus taught, the Kingdom of God has come on earth. His will is being done on earth, even as it done is in heaven.
From the perspective of Eternity – that is, of God and of Christ, the creation enterprise was failing because people were seeking their glory on earth. They were in love with life, so that both the world and the people in it were utterly in vain. There was no one who truly desired from the heart to die so as to go to heaven, and therefore the lives of all were lost. The salvation initiative of Jesus was to save the lives of the lost, and so to save the world itself. He saved it by restoring it to the fulfillment of its sole purpose.
Now from our individual points of view, when once enlightened, we see that we have lost our lives . . . lost to the glory of the Father . . . and it is our lives that are in need of saving.
The world was not producing the desired children before the victory of Jesus at Calvary. No one wanted to leave it to enter the Father's Glory, and so no one qualified for that transition. There was no one who even suspected that that was the sole criterion for eternal salvation. Since this was the sole purpose in the creation of the world, the result is that everything and everyone were utterly lost, and were thus the objects of God's salvation. The Father created us for eternal life. We are lost while we spurn that life for the sake of life in this world, but when we receive eternal life, we are "saved."
One enters life eternal through being begotten into it (John 3:3-7). So, one who has been born into life in this world, has been born of water. Then, when such a person has been begotten from above, of the Spirit, that person enters, or receives, the gift of eternal life, or has been begotten into eternal life. Here is the relevant utterance:
The Entrance to Eternal Life and the Essence of SinTruly, truly, I say to you, unless one is begotten of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is begotten of the flesh is flesh, and that which is begotten of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be begotten from above.` The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is begotten of the Spirit (John 3:5-8).Again I must emphasize that everything – the being saved, the being begotten from above, the entering eternal life – everything depends upon and is coincident with the redirection of the will-to-life of the individual as expressed in this utterance,He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).
Our willful commitment to temporal life is all that separates us from the Father's Glory, for which he created us. This willful commitment is therefore all that separates us from God. It is therefore the essence of sin, and from it all "sins" derive their existence. To repent of our sins is therefore synonymous with the reversal of that commitment, in which one makes a considered, willful decision to hate life in this world for the sake of eternal life in the Glory of the Father. This is nothing less than a radical conversion, from one whose life is bound to the love of life in this world, to one who has escaped that bondage for the sake of eternal life.
Are you debating your circumstances? Consider this: The Father has done his part. He has done everything he can do to effect your salvation. Jesus the Christ has done his part. He has done everything he came to do to effect your salvation. Throughout all ages, his witnesses have done all they can do; the word is near you, even before your very eyes and knocking on the door to your heart. Now it is up to you, what your fate will be for eternity. You can love your life, and lose it, or you can hate your life, in repentance and in the imitation of Jesus, and save it for life eternal. You, and only you, will decide. All he requires of you is an act of your volition, that you remove the only thing that prevents your entering Glory as a child of the Father – your desire to remain in this world through love of life. The freedom of the will brings with it a terrible responsibility!
The Father loves you but he will not force you. He cannot, for that would be the coercion of your will and the end of your freedom. You, and you alone, decide. If you do not decide for glory and Eternal Life with the Father, it is because you do not believe the words of Jesus our Lord. It is because you do not believe in Jesus; but if you decide for him, then you believe in him, for you believe his words. You also claim his promise, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but should have eternal life. So it is that your life may be saved, when you enter the salvation of our God and Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is all so simple! I do not say it is easy; to the contrary, it is very hard, as Jesus was careful to state. The simplicity is part of the hardness. It would surely be easier to deal with if it were vague or complicated. Then we might justify trusting our destiny to those experts, the clerics, who claim to watch out for our souls. As it is, we have no need of them. If they would testify to the Truth, they could help us and minister to our need of guidance; but, sadly, they only confuse our perceptions of the reality with which we have to deal.
Salvation and the Church
Salvation is an individual matter. One acquires it through an act of the will. It has no relevance to corporate associations. Jesus said nothing about joining a church to be saved. What he did say makes that irrelevant. Sacraments and ordinances of the churches are distractions that deceive us by providing a false sense of security. Fellowship is of great value, but it is fellowship in the Narrow Way that is a help to us, not that fellowship in the broad way that leads us to destruction (Matthew 7:13). Where is that community of believers that is founded in the hatred of life? It is "wherever," for Jesus said,Wherever two or three are gathered together, in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).Baptism in water does not save one. "Last rites" do not save one. Prayers and offerings for the dead have no value when those dead ones died in the embrace of the love of life. These things benefit only the clergy, for it is their living. There is no salvation by association with earthly institutions. The essential nature of salvation dictates that it associate only with heavenly institutions!
So, as to salvation, the church is not just misguiding, it is positively opposing the Truth that we have in Jesus and capturing in its pernicious web those who were seeking to become the children of the Father in heaven. To enter into a church is to enter into a spiritual prison that binds the mind, the heart, and the soul and insulates all who enter from the liberation of the Truth that we have in Jesus. What makes this most pernicious is that the churchmen and their clerics, like Paul, do it in the name of Jesus!
Salvation lacks essential emotional manifestations. True, our emotions are important expressions of our happiness and other states of mind. Therefore we are likely to experience some emotion in association with salvation, but not necessarily.
Emotions and Salvation
It is not essential that one have "feelings" of any kind to mark the experience. The tendency to expect or demand emotional manifestations is a great error in Christendom. Often, the expression of some emotion leads to the conclusion that one is "saved." When this is not so, it only seals ones condemnation, since one goes on erroneously believing he or she has been saved. If only we would listen to Jesus we would avoid these errors and, coincidentally, find salvation. Listen:If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death (John 8:51).In its essence, trusting Jesus for salvation simply means to trust his word. He said that anyone who hears, believes, and keeps his word will be saved . . . will receive eternal life. So we believe and accept it because of this simple fact: he said it. After that, our assurance of salvation rests on the same simple fact: he said it! One listens, one is convicted of the Truth of the utterances, and one chooses to believe. One makes the decision, a decision to believe Jesus and therefore to believe in Jesus, because the force of his utterances is so powerful and convincing. Then one continues to abide in that decision for the same reason: the force of his words in Truth is so powerful. His words reinforce the decision each time we hear them.
He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life (John 5:24).If you abide in my words, you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free (John 8:31,32).
There are two powerful deceptions at work in the world, and many remain under condemnation because of the false security that they provide. One is the trust in the corporate body of believers with its professional ministry and mutual affirmations. People believe because of the profound conviction with which the preachers proclaim it. Then they continue in the faith because of the affirmations they receive from the brothers and sisters who occupy the other pews. How can they question their salvation – how can they not be saved, when the corporate body of the historic church affirms them in every way? How can anyone doubt, when the highly respected pastor or priest expounds the message so powerfully? Here is a person of God, deeply committed and highly trained. One can do nothing but listen with deep assurance to one who speaks with so much enthusiasm.
Two Powerful Deceptions
The second deception springs up where the corporate body is not so historic and where the tradition is not so strong . . . where it is only in the beginnings of its formative stages. Then one needs an additional boost to assuage the deep inner doubts. True, the force of the minister continues to be critical, for apart from his persuasiveness one is not even involved. Still, one needs something more – and this one finds by appeal to the emotions. The Spirit seems surely to be in it because one feels it. One dances "in the Spirit," perhaps, or shouts for joy, or speaks in tongues, or weeps openly and shamelessly or simply senses a deep feeling of peace and assurance. This experience is surely real, as an emotional experience, so one goes on with the profound assurance that what the preacher says has happened, has happened: one has been saved! One is even moved to proclaim, "I am certain of it!" "Saved and certain!" becomes the battle cry and the ground of assurance of the faithful. When anyone else cannot subscribe to this cry, that person cannot be saved. If he were "saved," would he not also be "certain?"
Faith and Certainty
I was once a young pastor unhappily involved with just such a denominational experience. I think it was in consideration of this position, this "saved and certain" doctrine, that I first began to realize the Truth as Jesus has written it in my heart. It came to me, so forcefully and sensibly that I could find no reason to deny it, that this position is a fundamental contradiction. On the one hand, the church was proclaiming that salvation is by faith alone. On the other hand, the brothers and sisters found it necessary to attest to the "certainty" of it, without ever considering that when "certainty" enters the door, "faith" goes out, for it loses its very ground of being. Faith can exist only when there is no certainty. When you truly have faith in a thing, it is because there is no certainty, no surety, no "knowing," yet you believe and accept anyway, on faith. The biblical focus on faith as the grounds of salvation utterly eliminates any appeal to "certainty" or to "knowing."
Therefore, anyone who appeals to certainty is denying faith, and therefore also denying that salvation that rests upon faith as its ground of being. That young pastor was surprised to find that on acceding to this conviction . . . the conviction that there is no certainty of salvation . . . the ground of his faith became strong. His assurance became firm and his faith confident, whereas before he was prone to doubt. Deep in his heart he knew that nothing is certain, so that this appeal to certainty caused powerful doubts that undermined his faith.
Abandonment of certainty strengthened his inner assurance, which is the one that counts. The outer assurance was another thing, and that suddenly grew very weak. The brethren called him before them to give an accounting of his beliefs. As he was attempting to do so, a beloved elder brother spoke in his behalf: "Brethren, don't be too strong in your condemnation of Brother Ed. Stop and think. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have to admit that there have been times when we doubted our salvation!"
How I loved him! It took courage to say that. He did it because he loved me, and because he knew in his heart that they were doing wrong. Yet my heart ached for him because he completely misunderstood me. To him, the attestation of certainty was the remedy for doubt, so my refusal to subscribe to "certainty" must mean that doubts plagued my heart. The very opposite was the case. I did not doubt, where once I had, and the reason for the change was my turning away from certainty to the simple prescription of faith in the Word. I believed then, thirty-six years ago (as of 1991), as I still do, that the only valid ground of assurance of faith is faith itself. I fear that that dear brother was using his attestations of certainty in vain attempts to smother the raging fires of doubt in his heart . . . attempts that were only fueling the flames!
Faith is its own assurance. This faith is not "blind faith." It is rational, sensible, deliberate, and makes its appeal both to the heart and to the mind. How can one's faith be blind, when one perceives oneself walking in the light, as he is in the light? I believe Jesus. I have faith in him. I do this because I have listened to him carefully and considered the significance of his words, so that I am persuaded that he is Truth. He makes sense. His Word alone makes sense of the experience of my life in the world. It answers my questions and gives me a reason to exist and to go on. The longer I live in his words, listening, questioning, accepting, the more I am persuaded.
Even the indirect references to certainty are convincing. When Jesus gave his prophetic description of the last Judgment, he sorted all into two groups. He placed one, the sheep, on his right hand, and the other, the goats, on his left hand. Then he addressed those on his right hand:Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of he world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me (Matthew 25:34-36).This wonderful good news surprised the "sheep." They responded:Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you (Matthew 25:37-39)?The Lord's answer, packed with implications, is as follows:Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).On his other hand are the "goats," whom he next addresses:Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me (Matthew 25:41-43).We receive the strong impression that these "goats" are just as surprised as are the "sheep." They were not expecting this. They responded with a question that strongly suggests that they had approached this event in the strong conviction, perhaps even the "certain knowledge," that they had done everything necessary to salvation:Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you (Matthew 25:44)?
I can imagine their terrified, plaintive voices echoing through the corridors of Eternity, and I hear a strong emphasis as they bear down on the word "not." They are even more surprised than the sheep. It is too late . . . too late to do anything once one has heard those terrible words. One can only listen in terror and fear, and then obey the last commandment of the Lord:
The First and Last CommandmentsDepart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels... (Matthew 25:41).This "last commandment" is, of course, in contrast to the "First Commandment,"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul and with all your strength… (Luke 10:27).The First Commandment is not mandatory; we have a choice whether we will obey it. The last, in contrast, will certainly be obeyed by all who receive it . . . that is, by all those who do not obey the First. We have then this simple choice: whether to obey the First Commandment, or the last. Those who do not obey the first, will obey the last. Then, he will have taken the freedom of the will away from us. Now, the choice is ours. Then, it will be his. We see the basis of salvation in this portrayal of the last Judgment. The difference, the only difference, between the "sheep" and the "goats" is that the sheep ministered to the needs of "one of the least of these my brethren," whereas the "goats" did not. When Jesus said, "one of the least of these my brethren," he implied that this defined the same category that was listening to him then. The "sheep" were his brethren, and they had ministered to one another under the circumstances described, without realizing that they were also ministering to the Lord himself!
Why did they minister to him, and why did the "goats" not minister to him? The sheep are those the world hates, just as Jesus had also prophesied,Marvel not if the world hate you, for you know that it hated me before it hated you (John 15:18).Now, the world hates the sheep because they are those who hate their lives in the world. Since the world hates them, it also hates all who minister to them, and identifies them as one. Those who love their lives in the world will not do this. They are afraid, within the context of the love of life, to do anything that might place that life in jeopardy. They will do nothing that will identify them with those whom the world hates. Therefore, only those who hate their lives in the world will minister to those who are poor, hungry, thirsty, sick, or in prison, and whom the world also hates as it hates Jesus. This common attitude to life identifies them both with those whom the world hates, and with the Lord, whom the world likewise hates, because he also hated his life in the world. The "goats" do not identify with the "sheep" due to fear of the world that results from their love of life in the world. One of them might sympathize with the persecuted sheep . . . yet if one does nothing to minister to them for fear of being identified with them, the sympathy alone does not lead to salvation. They stand condemned because of their love of life that inspires the fear that, in turn, prevents acts of mercy.
Identifying the Sheep and the Goats
Many have appealed to this portrayal of the last judgment to assert the belief that good deeds, as such, are the basis of eternal salvation. So they go about giving clothing and food to the poor of the world, and visiting those who are sick at home or in hospitals, and ministering to the convicts in prison. They do these things in the belief that this activity will secure their acceptance on that day . . . for they will surely be among the sheep!
Not so. While such activity is commendable in that it is the manifestation of mercy and of loving one's neighbor as oneself (The Second Commandment of Jesus), it does not obtain salvation because it is not motivated by the hatred of life. Instead, many do such things out of the love of life. They often seek the glory of men, and find that the good reputation they secure enhances life in this world. Therefore they differ from Jesus, who "receives not glory from men." Jesus was therefore careful to counsel his followers, that when doing such acts of charity, they should not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing. Then their alms will be secret, and the Father, who sees them secretly, will reward them openly. Therefore, such acts of charity as Jesus listed in his portrayal of the last judgment are effective for salvation only when coupled with the hatred of life . . . that is, when they are directed to those whom Jesus called "these my brethren." These are those whose poverty, hunger, illness, or imprisonment results from their testimony to Jesus and to . . . the hatred of life. These are acts of charity that one does not do in secret. One does in secret only those acts of charity that would, if published, receive the approbation of the world.
The basis of salvation is the simple desire, as that of a child, to go to the Father in glory. This is the love of God. This is the fulfillment of the First and Great Commandment. It is the desire to go to him . . . now! Therein is the hardness. It is the love of God manifested by the child, Jesus, when he said to Joseph and Mary,
The Basis of SalvationKnow you not that I must be in my Father's house? (Luke 2:49, RSV)Jesus also expressed this in his "Parable of the Prodigal Son," which I have already discussed. There was nothing to prevent the son's acceptance by the Father, nothing to prevent his returning to the Father's house, except the lack of desire to go back. When at last he came to himself, when he finally made his appeal to return to the Father – now – the Father immediately accepted him. Why, the Father was rushing out to meet him even before he arrived!
This Parable, commonly called that of the "Prodigal Son" (Luke 15:11-32), is associated with two others, "The Parable of the Lost Coin" (Luke 15:8-10) and "The Parable of the Lost Sheep" (Luke 15:3-7). Thus it might more fittingly be called "The Parable of the Lost Son," so that all are parables of the lost. The last lines of the parable are those of the Father, " . . . for this your brother . . . was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:32).
Three Parables of the Lost
So we have three "Parables of the Lost," – "The Lost Sheep," "The Lost Coin," and "The Lost Son." Jesus was responding, in all three parables, to the self-righteous charge of the Pharisees and scribes that he "receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:2)! They had noted how the tax collectors and other "sinners" were coming to Jesus (Matthew 9:10; Mark 2:15-17) and so they judged him by the proverb, "birds of a feather flock together."
The first two, the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin, share common elements. Jesus put the Pharisees and scribes in their place by showing that their attitude toward sinners was unreasonable. They would have nothing to do with "sinners," not even to seek to save them from the error of their ways. This attitude was without concern or interest in helping those whom they condemned. The "Lost Sheep" and the "Lost Coin" are saying that the sinners are of equal value with everyone else. They are only lost and therefore in need of finding. If any man of them had a sheep to wander from the fold, he would not only drop every thing and rush to find it, but would be so overjoyed when he found and returned it to the fold that he would celebrate. So also with the woman who lost one of many coins. Here the emphasis of Jesus is on value, or "worth." That the coin was lost did not in the least detract from its worth, but caused the woman to drop everything else to look for it. She was full of anxiety at the thought of her great loss should it remain lost. She, too, is overjoyed when she finds it and rushes to tell all her friends, saying, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my coin which I have lost" (Luke 15:9)!
It is precisely the same when we consider the lost lives of those whom God intended to become the children of his glory. Jesus, who came, as he said, ". . . to seek and to save that which was lost." is here, in the world, like the man who lost his sheep, or the woman who lost her coin. Like them, he is here seeking the salvation of lost sinners, and rejoicing greatly when he finds even one of them. It is the only reasonable response of love for the lost. Jesus could not turn a cold shoulder to sinners, as did the Pharisees (Matthew 9:11: Mark 2:16; Luke 5:30; 15:2). It was for their salvation that he had come.
The Unique Parable of the Lost Son
The Parable of the Lost Son contains the same concern for the lost and the same rejoicing for the found as do the other parables. There are also differences that must be understood to perceive its full significance. First, the Lost Son is about the relation of a son to his father. It is about a human being, not about coins and sheep, and therefore we realize immediately that it is of a different order. In the parables of the sheep and the coin, the initiative for seeking and finding belongs totally to the man and the woman. The sheep and the coin can do nothing to find themselves. Not so with the lost son! Here the Father has evidently done everything he can do; now all depends on the son. The Father can do nothing but wait, grieving, loving, hoping that the son will yet return to his place in the Father's house. Everything, absolutely everything, now depends on the son because of his possession of free will. Considering the prime significance of the father / child relationship in the Word and the mind of Jesus, we can be certain that whenever he calls attention to it, he is referring to the Father, his only Father, and ours if we will have it so. This is no exception. Here he means to show how the Father in heaven (In the metaphor of Jesus, the Father's house is heaven) is looking down upon all the sinners of earth, the Pharisees and scribes included. The Father grieves for them in their lostness . . . lost to the Father, lost to his glory – lost, lost, lost! There is nothing the Father can do that he has not already done. Everything depends wholly upon the resolve of the lost ones. All that he requires of them, absolutely all, is that, like the lost son of the parable, they "come to themselves" and resolve to go to the Father's house with a plea for mercy.
The Word also reveals that the Father is so very merciful! This was another of Jesus' favorite themes . . . that the Father is merciful. So, in the parable, he not only rushes to give mercy to the sinner, but also kills the fatted calf and calls for a great celebration, for "This my son was lost, and is found."
MercyBlessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7).So it is nothing less than the mercy of God that is the ground of our salvation, and those who would go to him must likewise show themselves merciful. Lack of mercy was the great sin and failure of the Pharisees as they looked down on those whom they deemed "sinners." It was Jesus' purpose in these parables to reveal their lack to them in the most forceful way by showing that it was without reason. The Parable of the lost son does not stop there. It goes on to glorify the mercy of the Father who now can do nothing but wait in patient sorrow until the child comes home. This is the kernel of the whole matter: the will of the child! In deference to the precious freedom of his will, he cannot be forced. If he is to be saved from his sinful condition, there is but one remedy: he must resolve, out of his free will, to go to the Father. But that also means leaving this world – therefore the hatred of life becomes the key to salvation. The Prodigal Son received his salvation only after learning to hate his life in the pigsty and in the far country. That was all that had ever stood in the way.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35,36).
A second thing that distinguishes the Lost Son from the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin is that a new actor comes onto the stage – the elder brother (Luke 15:25). Who is this elder brother? We might suppose, from the similarity of his attitude toward his younger brother to that of the Pharisees and scribes toward sinners, that this elder brother represents the Pharisees and scribes. Not so! Although this elder brother seemed to manifest an absence of mercy, he still is the loyal son who has ever pleased his father. "Son, thou are ever with me." Is this spoken by Jesus of the Pharisees? He spoke of them elsewhere, saying:
The Elder BrotherWoe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves (Matthew 23:15).No, the elder brother cannot possibly be the Pharisees and scribes. Who, then?
You know neither me nor my Father (John 8:19).
The elder brother is Jesus. Here he is admitting us to the inner sanctum of his heart. It is his admission to us, the sinners, that he is tempted to despise us, just as the elder brother at first was tempted to despise the prodigal. He has been ever loyal and obedient to the Father. So when the Father expresses such great joy at the return of the lost son, who has never been faithful . . . and when he even kills the fatted calf in honor of the occasion, it is almost too much. Yet we know that Jesus responded appropriately to the Father's mild rebuke, for he was here in the world, sent by the Father, to seek and to save the lost. He accepted the Father's rebuke. Had it been consistent with his purpose to have carried the parable farther, we would have seen the elder brother joining the celebration and rejoicing with the Father. But Jesus was not here to magnify himself . . . therefore the parable stopped at this point.
The Pharisees generally despised sinners, holding them in contempt, unworthy of association. Jesus is showing us that, while he harshly condemns this unjustifiable, unreasonable attitude, he yet understands it . . . for he has been tempted to it.
The Parable of the Lost Son must be interpreted in the light of its context, as a response to the evil attitudes of the Pharisees and scribes. More than that, it reveals the essence of salvation. The context begins, not with Luke 15:1, where the Pharisees and scribes are introduced, but a few verses earlier, with Luke 14:25, where we read:
The Essence of SalvationNow great multitudes accompanied him; and he turned and said to them, `If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.The context, which begins with the hatred of life, ends with a vivid description of how one man came to hate his life in the pigsty (the world), and how that hatred was the sole condition of his salvation. In the Parable of the Lost Son, Jesus has set before us the essence of salvation with all its major components. Here we see the elder brother, Jesus. Here we see the Father in heaven, in his house, yearning for the return of that which was lost. Here we see the lost sinner, the prodigal, loving the world and giving himself to it fully, contrary to the will of his Father. Here we see the Father not standing in his way, because he cannot do so without destroying the freedom of the will, without which one cannot qualify for sonship. Here we see the son "coming to himself," suddenly hating his life in the world and longing to be again with the Father in heaven. Here we see the Father rushing to meet him, to embrace and receive him in complete forgiveness. Why? The repentant sinner has . . . hated his life in the world so that he might have life eternal.
Here we see the love and mercy of God. Here is eternal salvation based on the one essential condition that even the Father in all his love and mercy could not abrogate: the hatred of life in the world. So there is one thing, and one thing only, that stands between the sinner and the Father: the willful love of life in this world.
There is no place in the utterances of Jesus, and therefore no place in Truth, for the atonement theology of Christendom. Jesus was not a sacrificial lamb. This monstrous error has its roots in the Apostolic Era, for there is no doubt that it is a central theme of the Epistles. The Apostles, in turn, were drawing on prophetic utterances in their largely successful effort to relate Jesus to the traditional religion of the Jews so as to make him theologically palatable. Yet, I do not write off the Apostles. The Epistles also bear witness to the central place that they accorded the hatred of life in their exposition of the faith. Peter, who once denied Jesus three times in fear for his life and out of the love of life, later came eagerly to anticipate his departure from this world: "I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to arouse you by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me (II Peter 1:13,14). These were men of profound faith and mightily used of God, because they hated their lives in the world for the sake of life eternal. No one has since recorded words of greater inspiration. But the time has come to acknowledge that they, too, were human. They, too, blundered when they taught that the death of Jesus was an atoning sacrifice. Now, one would never discover their error by listening to them. Within the context of their epistles one finds that much of the text can be brought to bear in support of this doctrine. Apparently they lacked any comprehension of the blunder they were committing. Later, when a similarly blundering ecclesiastical institution elevated their epistles to the same level as that of the utterances of the Lord, their error was installed as a keystone of the faith. But the utterances of Jesus are still with us, and we can still realize the Truth by abiding in them, if only we will. Yet, how hard it is to demote the Apostles, due to the powerful influence of ecclesiastical traditions!
A Monstrous Error
The Parable of the Prodigal Son was inspired by the controversy with the Pharisees and their penchant for looking down their noses at "sinners." It was in an almost identical context that Jesus uttered the final word about sacrifices:And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heart it, he said, `Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:10-13; Mark 2:15-17).When Jesus lifted the phrase, "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" from the prophet Hosea, he elevated it to a principle in Truth that represents the mind of the Father. He does not desire any sacrifice. What he does desire is mercy. The first, the Pharisees were all too ready to produce. The second, they did not understand and did not manifest, especially when they were self-righteously condemning the "tax collectors and sinners."
Jesus understood the contradiction between "mercy" and "sacrifice". The sacrifice is totally incompatible with mercy, and so the Father, in his mercy, does not require a sacrifice. So, also, when he looks upon us he desires of us the one thing, mercy, and not sacrifice. The sacrificial atonement makes no sense within the mercy of the Father. The Father does not withhold forgiveness pending the offering of a sacrifice if he is truly merciful. If he desired a sacrifice, he would not have rushed out to meet the returning prodigal. He would have called out through the closed door, "Where is your sacrifice?"
But the Pharisees chose to trust in their sacrifices. It was a grave error, as even they could have readily discerned if only they had heeded the wider message of their prophets:For you have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalm 51:16,17).Therefore the merciful Father could not fail to accept the Prodigal Son, nor can he fail to accept anyone who thus comes to him. Is God a vampire that he must be sated with blood, and that the blood of the innocent one? Where is the mercy in that – where is the justice? Is God a leach, or a tic, or a mosquito, that his is an appetite for blood?
Nevertheless it is profoundly true that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin. This is not because God demands a blood-sacrifice as atonement for sin. It is because the love of life is the essence of sin, so that the shedding of blood symbolizes the hatred of life. Therefore it was necessary that Jesus shed his blood to bring the Truth to bear upon us. Had he recoiled from the cross it would have been because he yielded to the love of life in this world. Thus yielding, he would have lost his life – and ours also, who would have lost our guide, our savior, our example, our pioneer. It was then both right and necessary for him to shed his blood at Calvary. It was the definitive demonstration of the hatred of life.
The cross was not a sacrifice for sin, because it was not a real sacrifice. Jesus "sacrificed" nothing when he gave up his life on earth to enter his glory. He was trading the futility of this age for the Glory of the Father. That is no sacrifice.
Jesus knew that the Father does not desire sacrifice. He saw the result of the dependence of the Pharisees on a sacrificial system and he hated it, for he perceived it as a prime contributor to their self-righteous hypocrisy. He knew that the same result would come from the dependence of his followers on sacrifice (and indeed it has!). He did everything possible to guide us away from the sacrifice and into the True Way, which is the Way of Mercy, and not sacrifice. Would he, then, have offered himself to God as a sacrifice? Never! The Pharisees trusted, for their righteousness, in their sacrificial rituals, and they despised others who were without similar benefit as "sinners." So Jesus said that he came "not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Today, many churchmen trust similarly in a sacrificial system. According to this system, Jesus is the sacrificial lamb by which they secure righteousness. They presume that all who are without benefit of this sacrifice are condemned sinners. Some call it Mass, some Holy Communion, and some The Lords Supper, but in each case the result is the same: a body of people trusting a sacrifice for their righteousness and referring to others as "sinners." Now, when Jesus returns to receive his disciples unto himself and deliver them to the Father, his purpose will remain unchanged from that of his first visit. He will come, not to call the righteous, but sinners.
Yet Jesus extended the mercy of the Father even to the Pharisees and scribes, once they ceased to trust in their sacrifices and offerings. It was a scribe who came to him and asked, "Which commandment is the first of all?" When Jesus had finished his answer, the scribe responded: "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding and will all the strength, and to love neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." Then Jesus replied:You are not far from the Kingdom of God (Mark 12:34).He did not tell him that he was in the Kingdom, mind you, for the man still did not acknowledge that his offerings and sacrifices were of absolutely no value. But he was not far, because he had relegated them to a place of lesser value.
If Jesus had been of a mind to offer a sacrifice, he must have offered something of value. Even the Pharisees demanded the best of the flock, a lamb without blemish, for their sacrificial offerings. They were not accustomed to offer the dregs. Only the precious first fruits would do. Yet the testimony of the Gospel is, always, that Jesus counted his life of no value to himself, and therefore of no value to the Father. Surely, if he had been of a mind to offer a sacrifice, he would have offered something of value – his life in Glory. He would not have offered the pittance of life in time. He could have done that very thing – given up his life in Glory – had he but come down from the cross. But then we would not have seen the supposed sacrifice, would we? No, the appeal to the cross as a sacrifice is a monstrous error that continues to reap its dead harvest around the world.
Jesus Interprets his Crucifixion
What did Jesus say about his crucifixion? This is the key question, since it is the word of the Lord that must finally settle every controversy. I have already appealed to his statement:I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; 12:7).This should be sufficient to settle the matter without further ado. Still, let us examine the Gospels more thoroughly for other relevant utterances. Having done this already, I have discovered that he never presented any extensive dissertation on the subject of his crucifixion as either atonement, expiation, or sacrifice. While he did make at least one statement that might be applied to bolster the sacrificial interpretation of his passion, it is not necessary to do so. We will refer to this statement presently, but first, consider what he did not say. If the "sacrificial atonement" is as the preachers would have us believe, Jesus would surely have spoken to the issue. First, consider the metaphorical descriptions of himself. If he were the sacrificial lamb, as identified by John the Baptist (John 1:29,36), would he not have spoken of himself as such? Yet one searches in vain for any reference to himself as the lamb. He did use many other metaphors for himself, and I list some of them here that are from John's Gospel:So . . . never did he identify himself as "the lamb." Instead, when he used anything in the sheep category as a metaphor for himself he selected, not the lamb, but the shepherd. More curious yet, he selected a shepherd who dies for the sheep! Since he definitely had his mind on his unique death at the time of this utterance, it would have been necessary for him to have said, "I am the Lamb of God who sacrifices his life for sinners" if that had been his perception of his death. Without dispute, in the sacrificial system it is the sheep that dies for the man, not the man who dies for the sheep! So, his metaphorical language is precisely the opposite of that demanded by the doctrine of the sacrificial atonement. His followers, not himself, are the sheep; and he, the shepherd, a man, dies for the sheep. Yes, he even dies for the sins of the sheep!
- l. I am the bread of life (John 6:35).
- 2. I am the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5).
- 3. I am the door (John 10:7,9).
- 4. I am the good shepherd (John 10:11,14).
- 5. I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).
- 6. I am the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
- 7. I am the true vine (John 15:1).
His death for the sins of the sheep was not an atoning sacrifice. It resulted from the simple facts: the sheep (the men) are in bondage to Satan (the wolf) through fear of death and in complete darkness about what to do about it (John 12:35, 46). Their sin is, in its essence, the acquiescence to this fear. There is no way of deliverance from that captivity to Satan and sin unless someone could show the Way and elicit followers. That is what Jesus did.
So all men are lost in sin, lost sheep wandering in the dark night (John 3:19). It is necessary to our salvation that Jesus come into the darkness of this world to lead us out of captivity. He also redeemed us from the bondage of Satan, the fear of death, and blazed a trail into the Glory of the Father that we can follow if only we will. If we lacked sin, we would know the way such that it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to suffer for us. It is true, then, that Jesus died for our sins. Except for our sins, he would not have needed to come and die, and the Father would not have needed to send him. So it was that he came as our Way and Way-shower, our Shepherd, our Pioneer. There is therefore no way by which his death can be correctly interpreted as an atoning sacrifice.
The Function of Jesus
To call the crucifixion a demonstration does no damage to the true picture of the love of God and of Christ. That he suffered vicariously for us is beyond question. But to call it a sacrifice for sin greatly offends the growing capacity of men and women to comprehend the mercy of our loving heavenly Father.
Jesus not only pictured himself as a shepherd, but as a shepherd who did not flee when he saw the wolf (Rome, Herod) coming (John 10:11-18). He laid down his life instead, in defense of the sheep. In so doing, he both overcame the wolf and then went on, by his resurrection, to prove his kingdom and authority over all things. This, of course, includes death, which no other king has conquered.
To recognize the essential nature of sin is to understand why a bloody sin offering can never be effective to wash away or secure the forgiveness of sin. Recall how the Father's sole will and purpose is that we become his glorified children. Recall also how the sole hindrance to this is our contrary quest for an earthly fulfillment. It is therefore our love of life on earth that is the essence of all sin. All transgressions spring from this one root as branches from the central trunk of the tree.
Recall also that repentance is the act of the will, by which we cease to love our lives in the world and begin to love God with all our being. The result is that we begin to hate our lives in this world, in imitation of Jesus. We fix all our hopes on that promised blessed communion with the Father in Glory. This repentance becomes a possibility only through Christ, for only he has brought us the light and shown us the way. Before him, none understood what the Father requires, and that his requirement is not an arbitrary one, but one made essential by the nature of the case. Jesus truly said, therefore,No one comes to the Father but by me (John 14:6).For because Jesus was of all men faithful to his earthly calling, the Father has greatly honored him and exalted him above all. It was, as the apostle expressed it, that he might be the first-begotten among many brothers.
The cross is both a symbol of God's love for us, and of our love for God. It also has a corollary significance – It symbolizes hate. First, it is symbolic of Jesus' hatred of his life in this world. Second, it symbolized our hatred of our earthly lives, provided we follow him by taking up our crosses in imitation of him. The cross of Christ will be of no benefit to us except it become an example that we follow in the Way. Jesus said:
The Function of the CrossIf any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me; that where I am, there shall my servant be also (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; John 12:26).Another reason the teaching of the cross as sacrifice is heinous in the sight of God is that it leaves us with a false sense of freedom. We think we are free to pursue our lives in the world as usual, as most do, in the mistaken conviction that the blood offering covers all our sins. It also leaves us with a gross misconception of the nature of sin – that it is a multitude of miscellaneous transgressions of varying weights. I mean such acts as lying, cursing, stealing, adultery, murder, hypocrisy, and the like – even including also the consumption of alcoholic beverages (which Jesus did!). But these things are only the light froth resting on the visible surface of the boiling cauldron of sin, which is the love of life in this world.
The sinner is one who wants to go to heaven when he dies, whereas the righteous one truly wants to die, now, and go to heaven! No sacrifice offering can make the conversion from one of these states of mind to the other. But there is the dramatic demonstration of one who suffered for us that elicits – first our admiration, then our depths of appreciation, and finally, our imitation.
Another metaphor, by which Jesus likens himself to bread, is also highly significant for the present discussion. Found in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, a careful reading is enlightening:
The Bread of LifeTruly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 5:47-51).At this point, the Jews interrupted, disputing among themselves and saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" How, indeed! An uninformed person could well conclude that the speaker had taken leave of his senses. Then Jesus continued:Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the father's ate, and died; he who eats this bread will live forever (John 6:53-58).The discourse becomes even more incredible. It was intended to deliberately scandalize the Jews with their strong convictions against partaking of blood. Surely the man is speaking babble! Eternal life is dependent upon drinking his blood and eating his flesh? How can anyone take him seriously?
He was speaking to a Jewish audience that included his disciples but consisted predominantly of unfriendly Jews. Jesus was deliberately casting the Truth in such metaphors as would, although true, be misunderstood. He must have known that this cannibalistic language would be highly offensive. It also offended the disciples, so that it was necessary for Jesus afterward to explain the metaphor to them.
Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (John 6:61-63).Here we have it! These are the words that should for all time put to rest the heretical idea of the literal efficacy of the flesh and blood of Jesus to cover sin as a sacrifice offering, or as a sacrament or ordinance, or as anything at all!
"The flesh is of no avail." and, "The flesh profits nothing!" Why are the priests and preachers deaf to these words? In this brief statement is the simple truth that ends the giving of sacrifices for all time. Even the flesh and blood of Jesus profit nothing, for that is exactly the flesh and blood of which he was speaking. They are only metaphors, nothing more. To probe this metaphor, which is multi-layered, we need to enter it in stepwise fashion.
First, there is the bread. This corresponds to an ancient metaphor with which the Jews were familiar – the manna in the wilderness. As the manna sustained life, so this bread, the bread of life, also sustains life.
This bread also corresponds to the second metaphor of a series, his flesh and blood, which he had just set forth in so offensive a manner. Now the flesh and blood have particular significance, being the medium through which the Father introduced his words into the world. That is, it was through the medium of the flesh and blood of Jesus that the Father proclaimed the word in the world. The flesh, then, corresponds to the logos, being the vehicle that conveyed the Word to the world. Therefore it is the words of Jesus that, manna like, came down from heaven, and not the actual flesh, which was as earthy as yours or mine. Remember that Jesus always and in every way maintained that his words were solely the words of the Father:He who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him (John 8:26).Finally, we read that even the Word is but another metaphor, which corresponds to the life giving Spirit. To be "filled with the Spirit" is to be full of his words!
So, to partake of his flesh and blood, whether symbolically, as in the communion, or literally, as in the sacrament, or mentally, as in the doctrine of sacrificial atonement, will be of no use while our focus is upon the body of Jesus. It is his word:The flesh profits nothing (John 6:63).The Spirit, and only the Spirit, gives life eternal. Still, the Word mediates the Spirit, and the flesh and blood of Jesus mediate the Word. So to eat his flesh, to "eat me" as Jesus expressed it, is to eat or receive his words, which is to receive the Spirit, which is to receive life eternal! For his word is Truth, and it is the Truth that liberates us from the power of sin:If you continue in word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will make you free (John 8:31,32).The opening verses of John's Gospel present the significance of the metaphors of Jesus; it is the Word, not the flesh, that defines his being. Men know only to invest the flesh with being. Thus it was necessary that the person who is the Logos, or divine Word, become flesh to communicate with men and so it was written:And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. . . (John 1:14).As in these days, when men measure the quality of food in terms of calories, so the Father measures the quality of the life-giving word in terms of grace and truth. He who eats Christ feasts upon him – that is, upon his words, and so is strengthened and built up in the Spirit through grace and truth.
What does it profit if, in the ritual communion feast, one believes that he participates in the body and blood of Christ, if he does not heed the words that were mediated by that body and by that blood. Such a one brings condemnation upon himself due to hypocrisy, for by participation in the ritual he makes a public show of participating in the word (the body and blood) of Christ, which he does not do. If, on the other hand, one truly eats Christ by ingesting his words, his subsequent conduct will publish the fact. Where, then, is the need of a ritual? There is none; and if one reads the Gospels carefully, one sees that our Lord never authorized the so-called "Holy Communion." It is only another remnant of Christendom's Hebrew heritage – a perpetuation of the passover feast. The apostles erroneously propped up and preserved the ritual of sacrifice because they could not bear to divest every vestige of their Jewishness. Neither will the priests and preachers abandon it. It serves them to well by holding the people in bondage to them, like sheep led to a slaughter. When the child has been taught from infancy to hold the priest in awe as a man of God in whom is vested the exclusive right to administer sacraments or ordinances that assure him eternal blessedness, he is not likely soon to see the priest or pastor in his true colors. Instead, he continues all his lifetime to serve the minister as a sort of bond servant. It becomes for them both, then, according to the Word, that the blind leads the blind and both fall into the pit. The church has by such practices become the perfect misrepresentation of Christ to the world. Men continue to betray him – with a kiss!
And the Communion Service? What a travesty; participation in this ritual assures the communicant that he is by faith participating in the flesh and blood of Jesus, when he is in fact not doing so because he has not ingested the words of Jesus, and is therefore far from any participation in him.The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45).This introduces "the ransom," a subject of lively theological debate since the first century. If I wanted to avoid it I could not for the passage is without doubt authentic. I have to acknowledge, therefore, that Jesus saw the giving of his life on earth as a ransom. It was a payment for the release of captives.
The Mutual Exclusion of Ransom and Sacrifice
Now, if Jesus identified his death by crucifixion as a ransom, how can it possibly be a sacrifice? The offender offers a sacrifice, whereas the offended one offers a ransom. One offers a sacrifice to the offended one, whereas one offers a ransom to the offender. One offers a sacrifice for the release of the guilty one, whereas one offers a ransom to secure the release of the innocent one. Or, to put it all together, the evil one offers a sacrifice to the righteous one to deliver the guilty one, but the righteous one offers a ransom to the evil one to deliver the innocent one. So you must recognize that the two ideas are radically contradictory. Both include an offering, but there the similarity stops. Jesus could not have considered his crucifixion to be a sacrifice, because he did consider it to be a ransom, and to think of it as both is to be as irrational as to think of cold as hot, or of up as down. Sacrifice and ransom are veritable opposites!
How is it, then, that he considered it to be a ransom? Well, who was held captive, and by whom? And who extracted his life from him on the cross? Satan, the captor, the arch-prince of this world, bound men and held them captive through fear of death. Jesus gave his life on earth up to Satan, through the agency of Satan's subregents, the Romans, who crucified him. Precisely as often happens when the captors go to collect their ransom – Jesus revealed and destroyed Satan by exposing him to the whole world. He stripped from him the capacity any more to use the fear of death as the binding cord of those who are becoming the children of God.
Looking at the world as Jesus saw it, we see all men held in bondage to Satan, and to sin, through the fear of death. The sole release is for Jesus to enter among them and to deliver them from their shackles (the fear of death). He must do this by showing the impotence of the same through suffering the agonizing death that issued in the resurrection. Thus, through the giving up of his earthly life on the cross, he provided a way of deliverance for all mankind. Therefore the giving of his life followed the pattern of a ransom, and not that of a sacrifice.
Examine the death of Jesus, logically and rationally, and you will see that it matches the definition of a ransom in every respect. It was a payment, by Jesus the righteous one, to Satan the evil one, to redeem the innocent one – himself and all who take refuge in him.
Examine the death of Jesus, and you will see that it contradicts the definition of a sacrifice in every respect. In no sense was it an offering of an evil or guilty one, for if it were, then Jesus must be deemed evil or guilty. In no sense did he offer it to the righteous one, for it was Satan, through his subregents, Caesar, Herod, Pilate, and the Jewish rulers, who extracted his life from him. If it were an offering to the righteous one, then it must be that the righteous one is Satan, and the Father is the evil one! In no sense did it redeem the guilty – unless we call Jesus and those who follow him (in the hatred of life) the guilty ones. So it definitely was not a sacrifice. It was a ransom, and as such it could not have been a sacrifice.
The Apostle Peter understood that it was a ransom. He used the same (ransom) metaphor, but mistakenly combined it with the sacrifice metaphor in the following excerpt from his first letter:You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, 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 (I Peter 1:18,19).Jesus came into the world to liberate the captives. More specifically, his task was the liberation of the will. It would have been vain for him to have set us free in a forceful way without first persuading us to repent, or to effect the reversal of the will that had led us into captivity. There was a widely publicized kidnapping in America that is striking for its parallels in Truth. The members of an aberrant clan kidnapped the daughter of a "prince of the world" for the sake of ransom and publicity for their cause. Her captivity was prolonged and her captors bent her will to their cause. She appeared to have become one of them, and took equal part with them in their transgressions against the world of her parents. Then she was a captive indeed! Eventually they were all overcome, and she whom they had taken captive by force became a partaker with them in their punishment. First they captured her body . . . then her will.
Now, this is the way it is with God and men. God, not desiring to punish us but seeking to receive us as dear children, sent his son, Jesus, incognito into the clan that captured us through the captivation of our wills. His purpose was, and is, to persuade us, without any coercion of the will, to a reversal of the will to a righteous state, and to show the Way. He revealed the way to liberation and reconciliation to the Father by a martyrdom that the world can never forget. Thus it was that he became a ransom for our release.
We should note that, in our day, the ransom often has a slightly different connotation than in biblical times. Now, we hear of a kidnaper who steals a child and holds it captive until the parents deliver a ransom. This follows the pattern of a biblical ransom, but the latter means more than this. Then, one nation overcame and captured another whole nation, as the Jews were held captive in Babylon and Egypt, and as they hold the Palestinians captive in Israel today. It was a kingly matter, in which one ruler captured the peoples of another, and demanded a ransom as the condition of their release. So it was that Jesus entered the world to pay ransom as required for the release of those held captive by the ruler of this world, Satan. When Satan moved to collect his ransom, the life of the Son of God, he was himself overcome and relieved of his kingly power.
Here is yet another set of sayings relevant to the present subject.
The Blood of the CovenantNow as he was eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, `Take, eat; this is my body.` And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them saying, `Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom (Matthew 26:26-29).
And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them and said, "Take this; this is my body."' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God" (Mark 14:22-25).And he said to them, `I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.` And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, `Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes (Luke 22:15-18).If these passages are familiar, perhaps it is because they are the same ones that I set before you earlier as keys to the mystery of the coming of the Kingdom. You know, then, that I consider these words authentic within the limitations outlined earlier, and it is obvious that they may relate to sacrifice. I refer in particular to Jesus' statement, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many."
Now, if one chooses to follow the apostolic interpretation of the crucifixion as sin sacrifice, this statement could be cited in support of that doctrine. It is thus unique among all the recorded utterances of Jesus.
Let us examine these words again. Jesus did not mention a sacrifice, so that we must infer, if we choose to do so, that he had the sacrifice in mind. It is, then, only by inference that such a connection can be made. Now the question is, did Jesus intend such an inference?
Considering the various facets of the statement individually, it becomes immediately evident that the shedding of his blood definitely was for the forgiveness of the sins of all who trust him in Truth for eternal salvation. This is perfectly evident, and I give it wholehearted acceptance. But how is it that the blood of Christ effects the forgiveness of sins? As a sacrificial offering given to satisfy a blood-thirsty deity? No!
The blood of Christ secures forgiveness in this manner: The whole world of men was under the condemnation of sin – the sin of loving their lives in this world. They were all in darkness, such that none of them knew any better and there was no repentance for lack of knowledge. Truly, they were an offense to God, who had designed them for his eternal Glory. The Father, in his mercy, was ready to forgive them whenever they would repent and turn from the world. But they did not even know how to repent, for they did not understand the nature of their sin. Thus their salvation required that someone enter the world to enlighten them, teaching them the way by word and example. This is precisely what Jesus did and the teaching necessarily consisted of oral expression and visual aid, of precept and example. He distributed the words throughout the days of his ministry, but the final example came at the end, at the crucifixion. Without that, he could never have made the full impact of his words felt and known. By that example, he dramatically displayed the essence and the power of his words. Now we can know the full meaning of repentance and be moved to repent. We repent, then, by putting to death the earthly affections within us, and by resetting our affections on things above – on the Father, his Glory, and his eternal life. The Father's loving forgiveness follows quickly; but apart from the crucifixion we could not have understood the sinful significance of the love of life, could not have repented and so he could not save us.
Jesus was most careful to express the purpose of his crucifixion in each of the four gospels. You can see his explanation of his death at the Great Principle link.
Even this is not the full story. The significance of the Kingdom is vital to our right understanding of the crucifixion. All that I have already written must be applied at this point, for the rule of the world was the central issue. Jesus could only gain this rule by laying down his life willingly, to enter the glory of the Father. It was by fear of death that Satan held men in bondage and ruled the world. Therefore, it was only by suffering a fearless death that Jesus could overcome him. Unless Jesus overcame Satan and the world of life lovers, he also would be a sinner and there would yet be no forgiveness. Thus it is that the death of Jesus secures the forgiveness of sins. It is after this manner that his blood becomes effective for our salvation.
Consider now the other portion of Jesus' statement that makes reference to "the blood of the covenant." When Moses received the Law at Mt. Sinai, he wrote all the words of the Lord in a book, "The Book of the Covenant." Then he built an altar and there he read all the words to the people; he also offered sacrifices of oxen, and threw half the blood against the altar and half upon the people and said, "Behold, the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words." Thus, the first covenant was ratified by blood, and it is this pattern that Jesus had in mind when he spoke of his "blood of the covenant."
He was initiating a New Covenant to replace the old; and it is fitting that, according to the pattern of the old, the new also should be ratified by blood. So it is true, precisely as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has explained, that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. It was true for the Old Covenant, it is true for the New Covenant. Therefore most of the explanation found in the Epistle is correct. But the new was of necessity different from the old according to the prophet, and as quoted in Hebrews:The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord. This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach every one his fellow or everyone one his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:16,17).Therefore the new is far superior to the old. According to the old, ratification was by the blood of a dying sacrifice; but according to the new, ratification is by the blood of a victorious, living demonstration, and not by a sacrifice. Yes, the Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of a sacrifice. How different is the new one! It was ratified by the blood of one who taught that God does not desire a sacrifice.
It is easy to see how the apostles misunderstood the crucifixion. Superficially, it does resemble the blood-letting ritual of the ancients. The high priest was instrumental in the act, and the blood of a pure and innocent victim was poured out near, if not exactly upon, the altar of God. Yes, the suffering part of it might be so interpreted, but not so the actual death. That was no sacrifice by any standard! It diametrically opposed the definition of sacrifice. It was the very furthest thing imaginable from a sacrifice, for it was the means by which he took leave of this futile world (where he never wanted to be) and returned to the Glory of his Father. No reasonable person, aware of the facts, can consider that a sacrifice.
So there is nothing about the death of Jesus that truly can be called a sacrifice. The sacrificial animals lost their lives; but about the death of Jesus, everything is gain. Christ himself witnessed that he came into the world from the Father's glory, but he did not wish to come. He came only because the Father sent him (John 8:42). It was important to him that we understand that he did not want to come. Had it been his desire to come to us from the Father's presence and Glory he would have been guilty of the cardinal sin, the very sin that he had come to define as such for us – that is, the sin of loving the life in this world. He would have been following the folly of the Prodigal Son. He never loved it, though, and never wanted to enter it. He hated it before its beginning, and he hated it unto the end. Hating it, he refused to save it and so saved it for life eternal. Because he did, you can too.
What of that other thing of which the preachers love to speak, the sin debt? How heinous an idea! That Jesus' suffering, bloodshed, and death was the payment of a sin-debt to God without which the sin could not be forgiven. As for our being indebted to God, it is true. We owe everything to him. It is true also that our transgression of his will subjects us to a just penalty. It is true also that the debt is so great that none of us can pay it. Apart from this, the preachers have greatly confused Christendom, and Christendom has greatly confused the world, by teaching that the crucifixion was both a sacrifice and a debt payment, whereas anyone can readily see how it cannot be both. The two are a contradiction. A sacrifice is offered freely, a gift to God, so that if it is payment of a debt it cannot be a sacrifice. Now I have already shown that it was not a sacrifice. Neither is it a payment of our debt to God and this I trust you will understand also. All Jesus' teachings on it rests on the assumption that we can never pay our debt to God. It will be settled, either by condemnation or forgiveness but never by payment. God's estate, unlike ours, is infinite. He never suffers loss through what he has entrusted to us, nor can we give to him anything that would add to him whose gain is infinite. There is one exception: the gift of our very selves as dear children to our God and Father. This, however, is not payment of a debt. If it were, each one could settle his account with God through the rendering of his person. No, for it is true, as the preachers usually proclaim, that the debt is so great that none can pay it.
The Sin Debt
Jesus mentioned a debt to God on at least three occasions. The first mention is in the parable of the Kingdom often called "The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant" (Matthew 18:23-35). Here, he likens God to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. One came before him who owed ten thousand talents – so great a sum that he could never pay. The king ordered him and his family to be sold into bondage toward payment. But the man's pleas were so pitiful that he was forgiven the debt outright, without any payment. Now, the servant did not share in the merciful spirit of the king. He went out and seized one of his fellow servants, who owed him a mere hundred denarii, and demanded immediate payment. Like himself, the fellow servant could not pay and so fell down and plead for mercy just as he had plead before the king. But he hardened his heart against his fellow servant and dealt with him unmercifully, casting him into debtors prison. This enraged the king. He summoned the man and said to him, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" And in anger the king delivered him to the jailers. Then Jesus stated the lesson of the parable:
Settling the Supposed DebtSo also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:35).Keeping this first teaching in mind, next consider the second one, from Luke's Gospel (Luke 7:37- 48). Jesus had accepted an invitation to dine in the house of Simon the Pharisee. While there, a sinful woman entered bearing an alabaster flask of ointment. She then proceeded to stand behind him, at his feet, weeping. The tears fell upon his feet, wetting them, and the sobbing woman wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. Seeing that Simon was taking the typical pharisaical attitude to the woman, he said to him:A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more (Luke 7:41,42)?Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more."
Jesus replied, "You have judged correctly."
Turning then to the woman, he continued speaking to Simon:See this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet them with tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.Then he addressed the woman:Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you, go in peace.Third, once in teaching the disciples to pray, he said,Pray then like this...forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matthew 6:12).There is a common element in all three of these teachings, which is that, before God, we can settle our debts amicably only by forgiveness. Neither we, nor anyone acting on our behalf, can settle them by payment. If Jesus had understood his crucifixion as in any sense a debt payment, it is in these passages that he would have incorporated such a doctrine. But no. Instead, the Word always presumes that one never settles such a debt by payment. Always it is settled by forgiveness . . . or by punishment. Furthermore, it is evident that the forgiveness is conditional on two things. The woman was forgiven because of her great love for God, and the forgiveness was contingent on that love. This was, and is, the primary factor – the love for God. There is no forgiveness apart from love for him.
What is this love for God? It is the hearts desire to be united with the Father, in his presence, in Glory, unalloyed with any earthly affection. What can this mean . . . but the hatred of one's life on earth? The woman was forgiven because she loved much; and because her sins were many, she was forgiven much. Because she was forgiven much, she loved all the more, so that these two things, love and forgiveness, work together for a mutual magnification of love that began when God the Father loved the woman, while she was yet a sinner, and sent Jesus to minister to her great need.
The second condition of God's forgiveness concerns our response to him after realizing that our own sins are forgiven. We must be imitators of his mercy if we are to receive mercy, for if we do not forgive others their debts, neither are our debts forgiven. Herein is the mercy of God manifest in the world – when his children forgive the debts of others, even as God has forgiven them. Therefore also Jesus commands us saying:Lend, expecting nothing in return.In a similar way he pronounced a blessing on the merciful, those who forgive, saying:
Give to him that asks of you (Luke 6:30,35).Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7).Why does anyone persist in exacting every cent from debtors?
Clearly, it is because of the love of life in this world, which results in the placing of great value on money for what it can do for us here and now. How can anyone forgive a large debt, but for the love of God and the hatred of life? All things, you see, condense to one fundamental disposition of the will of the individual. You surely perceive by now why it is true, as Jesus said:He who loves his life loses it, but he who hates his life in this world shall keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).Perhaps now you can appreciate the words of the Father first spoken through the prophet, Hosea:I desire mercy, and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).It is a crass and pagan conception of God that knows him as one who can be satisfied with the blood of the innocent one or as one who must exact full payment of every debt, though it comes, unjustly, from one who has no debt (that is, from Jesus). It is a paltry grace that comes only to those whose debts are paid, by themselves or by someone else! Begone, you god of dark Christendom, you without mercy, who thirsts for blood and who demands full payment of every debt!
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