What Happened on the Cross?

Posted On December 12, 2019

Sin has separated man from God, and the only way of reconciliation is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection have made it possible for sinful humanity to be restored to God. But, why is the cross necessary? What happened on the cross that made salvation possible?

We’ll continue our study of “Great Doctrines of the Bible” by Martyn Lloyd-Jones by examining chapter 28, “The Atonement.”

While there are many things Jesus did that are not recorded in the Gospels (John 21:25), each of the Gospels highlights the cross. MLJ states that, on average, the Gospels devote one-third of their space to the death of Christ. Such emphasis is carried out in the book of Acts and the teaching of Paul. The death of Christ is of vital importance.

It is possible to talk about the cross but have false views about what actually happened. For example, MLJ notes how some argue that the cross was a “tragedy” or “accident.” Some see the cross a failure, an unexpected surprise even to Christ. However, Scripture teaches that the cross was not only expected but was the very plan of God to accomplish salvation (Matt. 20:28, Luke 24:13-35, Heb. 2:9).

MLJ lists other false explanations that must be understood and worked through before providing the biblical explanation (in another chapter).

False Theories on the Atonement

  1. Ransom theory- the idea that God had to pay a ransom price to the devil to free us. However, Scripture doesn’t teach this. It is the justice and wrath of God that is against us because of our sin.
  2. Satisfaction theory- the idea that God’s honor was what needed to be vindicated on the cross. This theory doesn’t mention the justice of God.
  3. Moral influence theory- this theory teaches that the death of Christ was an attempt to convince man that God loves us. The death of Christ, according to this theory, wasn’t actually needed for God to forgive sins; it simply is an attempt to convince us that our sins can be forgiven.
  4. Governmental theory- the cross was just an attempt by God to show man the seriousness of sin.
  5. Mystical theory- according to this theory, Christ took on a sinful human nature and then went to the cross to purge the sin out of it.
  6. Vicarious repentance theory- the idea that the cross was God’s offering of repentance on behalf of mankind. The Lord is “making a confession on behalf of mankind” (316).

Some of these false theories have elements of truth in them, but none of them do justice to the biblical teaching on the need for God’s justice and wrath to be satisfied on the cross. The cross is necessary because mankind has broken God’s holy law, and the debt is death. In our next post, we’ll examine the biblical teaching on the atonement and what happened on the cross and why it was necessary.

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