Friday, April 10, 2015

5 Attributes of Punishment, pt 1

This is a follow up post to 7 Things Accomplished on Easter.

When Jesus died on the cross, many things took place. There are several explanations in the Bible for Jesus' death, not to be harmonized and condensed, but to be understood as explaining separate aspects of His work. In his book Christian Theology, Millard Erickson lists five different theories of the atonement:
         "The Socinian Theory: The Atonement as Example
         The Moral-Influence Theory: The Atonement as a Demonstration of God’s Love
         The Governmental Theory: The Atonement as a Demonstration of Divine Justice
         The Ransom Theory: The Atonement as Victory over the Forces of Sin and Evil
         The Satisfaction Theory: The Atonement as Compensation to the Father"[1]

These various theories should not really be thought of as competing, but as each explaining some different angle of what Jesus did. Like any ;l’ty;ilu;tyo 0o’ljlk metaphor (which they certainly are, nothing like the cross occurs in our experience), they are accurate when used properly, but dangerous when pushed beyond their intended scope.

While I hope to blog in the future about these different aspects of the work of Christ, the angle of explanation which seems to be the easiest to use as a starting point (at least in our culture) is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. That means that Jesus was given the penalty for my sin, as my substitute, to cover up my guilt before God (to atone/make me at-one with Him).

Legal experts acknowledge 5 purposes for punishment. These are deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution and restoration. To help structure our thoughts, we will see how God's judgment of Jesus addressed each of these reasons. You will see the five theories all present here in some sense, but they do not correspond closely. So let's ask the question: what does the cross actually do?

1.) The Cross Deters
Imagine the cross standing against the darkened sky – the agonized cries of Jesus. How terrible must sin be to earn a penalty like that, where God would have to give up His Son to shame, execution and abandonment? The cross serves as a double deterrent to sin. For the lost, it takes away the opportunity to downplay judgment (Hebrews 10:29); if sin was costly enough for the heir to be punished, what will happen to the rebels?
This deterrent is not limited to the unsaved, but extends to Christians, in a different way. While Christians are not constrained by fear of judgment, they are motivated by something much more positive. Someone may give me a car. If I know nothing about them or what they cost, I may be superficially grateful, but perhaps not deeply moved to protect it. If I recognize that it as a $200,000 luxury sports car, I will probably park in a quarter of a mile away from any other cars, and wrap it in bubble wrap ever night. When I understand the value of something, it is precious to me. When Christians see the cost of forgiveness is the terrible suffering of Jesus, the desire to sin is overcome (1 Peter 1:17-21; 1 Corinthians 6:20). For the believer, the cross is an even more powerful deterrent than it is to the one who is afraid.  

2.) The Cross Incapacitates
Incapacitation can take many forms. Often in our society, incarceration is used to prevent people from committing crimes. Keeping someone in jail (theoretically) keeps them from committing another crime. Historically, exile accomplished the same thing – if someone is out of my country, at least they commit no crimes here. The supreme method of incapacitation is, of course, the death penalty. Those who experience the power of the sword do not err again.
Jesus’ death did not incapacitate Him by any means (it was impossible for death to hold Him – Acts 2:24). Instead, by purchasing the world with His blood, Jesus bought the rights to the title deed to the world (Revelation 5:9-10). It is by this double authority (as Creator and Purchaser of the cosmos) that Jesus seals Satan up for 1000 years (Revelation 20:1-3).
More profound and more permanent still – the cross incapacitates Satan eternally, and even incapacitates death itself (Hebrews 2:14-15; 2 Timothy 1:10). Since the cross takes away our sins - and if God is for us who can be against us? – death itself loses the power to be ultimately victorious. Though Jesus was bound, executed and exiled from His people for a season, His death ultimately binds sin, casts it away from us and  kills it forever.  

Come back for the next part on Monday. 

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 714.

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