What happened on the Cross? And Why Does It Matter?

Atonement, Book Review

I just finished reading N.T. Wright’s new book The Day The Revolution Began. If you’re unfamiliar with N.T. Wright, he is the former Bishop of Durham and one of the premier New Testament Scholars. His newest book is a 416-page examination of the narrative, cultural, and theological purposes of Jesus’ crucifixion.

I wanted to share my summary of his basic conclusions concerning the Cross and what is traditionally regarded as Atonement Theology. I originally wrote this summary as a way to help me digest the book. However, this summary will benefit any looking for a deeper understanding of Jesus death.

I hope you enjoy…and I encourage you to pick up the book for yourself.

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Humans were made for the vocation of priests of God in creation (i.e. “image bearers’). Humanity rejected this vocation (a.k.a. sin), resulting in humanity giving it’s power to the people and realities we worshiped, both seen and unseen. These new ‘Powers’ enslave us, take us in exile from our original purpose, and ultimately destroy us in death.

The Kingdom of God was established by disarming the Powers on the cross through the ‘forgiveness of sin,’ thus freeing those held captive by these Powers (and reconciling us to God) to become fully functioning, fully image-bearing human beings within God’s world, already now, completely in the age to come.

If the enslaving Powers are to be overthrown, they cannot simply be outmatched force for force. If one force overcomes another, it is still force that wins. Thus, the Kingdom of God is established, overcoming and overthrowing the Powers, by, not the power of force, but the power of self-giving love.

If the enslaving Powers are to overthrown they must be robbed of the source of their power; and if the source of their power comes sin (i.e. human rejection of their vocation as priests through the worship of realities other than God), then when ‘sins are forgiven’, the Powers are robbed of their power. Thus, releasing people from their sin and from the effects of those sins is the means by which Christ is victorious over the Powers.

The ‘forgiveness of sin’ thus required one who could lead humanity out of exile, bringing justice to the covenant faithfulness of God (i.e. the promises of God to Israel, particularly that through Israel God would bless all nations), and cleanse the people from their guilt and shame. Enter Jesus. As the Messiah, Jesus is the representative of Israel, both the King and High Priest. Jesus takes on the full plight of the people’s exile; dying a rebels death for his rebellious people, though he himself was not a rebel; dying a slaves death for his enslaved people, though he himself was not a slave. As a result, Jesus’ self-sacrificial death reveals the covenant faithfulness of God, and provides passage home from exile for his people, via union with his death (and thereby his resurrection). His split blood, as the result of his death, was nothing less than the “blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins,” a sign that something new was coming into being.

The cruciform shape of the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, therefore implies a cruciform mission for its citizens