The Heart of It All: Salvation

October 23, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

God’s Plan

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

The core teaching of the New Testament can be found in one of the most beautiful verses of Scripture:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.[1]

This verse reveals the amazing truth that the Creator of the universe loved the human race so much that He sent the second Person of the Trinity—God the Son, Jesus—to become human and to die in our place for the sins we have committed, so that we wouldn’t have to suffer the penalty for those sins even though we deserve to. We have the opportunity to receive everlasting life because Jesus has paid the price for our sins through His sacrifice.

God’s plan of salvation, which was decided upon before the creation of the world, is rooted in God’s love for humankind. God’s motivation is love. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love us and made a way for us to be saved from the ultimate consequence of sin—spiritual death and separation from God in the afterlife, which is called hell in Scripture.

Some people have the impression that God is a cruel and angry God: that He judges people harshly because He is personally offended that they sinned against Him, and therefore He selfishly demands that they be punished. The true picture is very different. Because God’s nature includes the attributes of holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath, in order to be true to His divine nature He must judge sin. He could have justly punished every human being for their sins. Instead, because His divine nature also includes the attributes of love, mercy and grace, His wish was that no one should perish,[2] and to that end He has made a way in which humans can be redeemed. That redemption is rooted in His love, because He “so loved the world.” His love is such that even though we are sinners, and have sinned against Him, He has, in love, made a way that we can be saved from the merited judgment for our sins. God’s plan of salvation is the manifestation of His mercy and love for humankind.

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.[3]

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.[4]

From the Beginning

God knew, before creating the universe, that human beings created with free will would sin, so He made a way to save humanity from the penalty for sin through His plan of salvation. His plan for the salvation of humankind enabled Him to be true to all aspects of His divine nature: His holiness, righteousness, and wrath, and His love, mercy, and grace.

God’s desire is to save humans, to redeem them, to reconcile them with Him, while remaining true to His nature. He was under no obligation to save us; He could have simply let all humans suffer the penalty of sin, but He didn’t. In His love for us, the triune God made a way to redeem us. God had the plan of salvation from the beginning, which was put into play starting with Adam and Eve’s first sin and which culminated in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Since God is the omniscient Creator, it was no surprise to Him that Adam and Eve sinned. He knew that they would freely choose to disobey Him, and in His foresight, He had already designed His plan of salvation. When God told Adam and Eve the consequences of their sin, He also spoke to the serpent, saying:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.[5]

From the very beginning, God said that an offspring of the woman would bruise or crush the head of the serpentSatanwhile Satan would only bruise his foot. At the time that the first sin was committed by humanity, God was already foretelling how Jesus would defeat Satan.

His plan of salvation included calling out a people, Israel, to whom He would reveal Himself and give His commandments. It was through His words spoken to Israel that God revealed knowledge about Himself, the one true God, and His law. Israel guarded and passed on His revelation from generation to generation, thus ensuring its preservation. It was through the lineage of Israel that He sent His Son as the God-man, through whom He brought salvation to humanity.

The history of Israel is the history of God laying the groundwork for the salvation of humanity through Jesus.[6] The Old Testament not only contains prophecies about the Messiah’s life and mission, but also numerous foreshadows of the salvation to come through His incarnate Son. When speaking about the Old Testament, David Berg wrote:

God had a hard time getting the children of Israel out of the idolatry of Egypt and had to lead them through Moses, with the Law as their schoolteacher, by childish little illustrations and rituals, little material object lessons—the Tabernacle, the Ark, animal sacrifices, and the blood of beasts.—Types and shadows, mere pictures of the spiritual realities and eternal verities. He had to take what they understood, the things and forms with which they were familiar in the religions of Egypt and other heathen nations around them, in a fatherly attempt to audio-visualize for them the genuine spiritual truths of the mature adult true worship of God Himself. As the Apostle says, these were all “figures of the true,” mere visual likenesses or illustrations of the real unseen things of the Spirit! In the Old Testament were the illustrations; in the present New Testament time are the spiritual truths which we have now by faith alone (John 1:17).[7]

Old Testament Types and Shadows

In order to gain a deeper understanding of salvation and redemption, of why Jesus had to die on the cross in order for us to be forgiven for our sins and become reconciled with God, it’s important to review some of the “types and shadows” within the Old Testament. We’ll focus here only on those which are directly connected to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Throughout the book of Genesis there were sacrifices made to God, beginning with Cain and Abel, then continuing with Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. One particular story, that of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, prefigures God’s sacrifice of His Son for the sins of humanity. When Isaac asked his father where the lamb for the sacrifice was, Abraham said that God would provide it. When Abraham was about to slay his son on the altar, the Lord then showed him a ram that was caught in the bushes, which Abraham sacrificed instead of his son. The substitution of the lamb for Isaac as a sacrifice to God portrays the concept of substitutional sacrifice, which is the basis for the animal sacrificial system which God later gave to Israel through Moses, as a means of atoning for their sins. God’s provision of the ram foreshadows His supply of a sacrifice, His Son, for the sins of humanity.

Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together … And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.[8]

Centuries later, when the descendants of Abraham, the Hebrews, were enslaved in Egypt, God spoke to Moses and told him that He would deliver the Hebrews out of the hands of the Egyptians. When the pharaoh of Egypt wouldn’t let them go, God informed Moses that on a certain night He was going to kill all the firstborn in Egypt, both men and animals. He commanded each Hebrew household to kill a year-old sheep or goat and to sprinkle its blood on the door frames of their houses. If they would do so, the firstborn in the houses with blood on the doorposts would be spared the judgment of God. Those without the blood would not be spared.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household … Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” … Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb.”[9]

Their obedience in sacrificing the Passover lamb and sprinkling its blood on the doorframe was the key to the Hebrews being spared from God’s judgment, and resulted in them being freed from bondage and slavery. In the second year after their deliverance from Egypt[10] God instructed Moses to initiate the Levitical sacrificial system in which animal sacrifice would atone for sin. Authors Lewis and Demarest give the following excellent basic explanation of this sacrificial system:

In the burnt offering, the fellowship or peace offering, the sin offering, and the guilt offering, a sacrificial procedure was followed that generally involved the following elements: (1) an unblemished animal, connoting the idea of moral perfection, was presented at the door of the sanctuary by the offerer. (2) The offerer places his hands on the animal’s head, signifying identification with the victim and the transfer of the penalty of sin to the substitute. (3) The animal was slain by the offerer (in later times by the priest), signifying that death is the just punishment for sin. (4) The priest sprinkled the blood of the victim on the altar and around the base of it, the blood representing the life of the victim. And (5) the offering, in part or in whole, was burned on the altar of burnt offering, its fragrance ascending to God as a pleasing aroma. Repeatedly Scripture indicates that the purpose of these sacrifices was “to make atonement” for the offerer (Leviticus 1:4; 4:20; 5:13; Numbers 5:8; 8:12; 15:25).[11]

Every year on the Day of Atonement a special sacrifice was made for the sins of all the people. First the high priest made an offering for his own sins, followed by a special offering for the people. Again, Lewis and Demarest give a concise explanation:

The high priest sacrificed the first male goat brought by the people as a sin-offering and sprinkled its blood on and in front of the “atonement cover” in the Holy of Holies, thereby expiating the uncleanness of the people (Leviticus 16:15–19) and making atonement. This act of blood shedding, according to Leviticus 17:11, represents God’s ordained way of securing atonement. The high priest then laid his hands on the head of the second goat (the “scapegoat”) and confessed all the sins of the community, thus symbolically transferring guilt from the people to the victim. The second goat became the sin-bearer, as it irretrievably carried the sins and iniquities of the people into the wilderness.[12]

In these Old Testament sacrifices we can see the concepts of atonement and reconciliation for sins through substitution. In the same way as the ram was sacrificed in Isaac’s place, the animals were sacrificed for the sins of the offerer. These Old Testament sacrifices atoned for past sins, but needed to be repeated as new sins were committed.

God the Redeemer

Besides these types and shadows of atonement for sin through the substitutionary sacrifice of another in the place of the sinner, and sins of all being placed on a single “scapegoat,” there is another foreshadow in the Old Testament of things to come; namely, the understanding of God being the “Redeemer.”

In the exodus from Egypt, God Himself, through His mighty acts, delivered His people from bondage and slavery. He redeemed them and freed them. Speaking to Moses, He said:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.”[13]

From this point on, God was called the Redeemer.

They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.[14]

It is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.[15]

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you.[16]

The deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery was the work of God. The Hebrews weren’t able to deliver themselves from the bondage of the Egyptians. God is the one who pronounced judgment on the Egyptians when pharaoh would not let the Israelites go, and brought upon them the plagues that resulted in the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew people. Through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb, God preserved the Hebrews from the punishment He inflicted upon the Egyptians.

God delivered the Hebrews through supernatural acts and wonders by His own hand, and not by their works. This was a foreshadow of the grace by which He redeems us through the work of God in salvation. It’s His work, not ours, which saves us. Salvation is available only by His grace, mercy, and love.

God’s plan of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus was His plan of redemption for human beings before humans ever existed. Within the Old Testament He begins to reveal His plan; and then in New Testament times when John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,”[17] the fullness of His plan begins to be fully revealed.

The Lamb of God

The fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption through Jesus’ death, His sacrifice of Himself in our place through His blood shed for our sins, is repeatedly spoken of throughout the New Testament. He is the Lamb sacrificed, the one who has died in our stead, and who, like the scapegoat, has taken our sins upon Himself. He is the Redeemer who saves us from the slavery of sin. His death and resurrection is the culmination of the Old Testament types and shadows. It is the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. God has been holy, righteous, and just to His creations. He has been loving, merciful, and gracious. And we are beneficiaries of the greatest sacrifice ever made.

Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.[18]

We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all … For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.[19]

He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself.[20]

He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.[21]

You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.[22]

Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.[23]

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.[24]

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.[25]

Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.[26]

This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.[27]

[1] John 3:16 NKJ.

[2] The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

[3] Romans 5:8.

[4] 1 John 4:9–10.

[5] Genesis 3:15.

[6] Jack Cottrell, What the Bible Says About God the Redeemer (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1987), 402.

[7] David Berg, Flesh or Spirit? February 1971.

[8] Genesis 22:6–8,13.

[9] Exodus 12:1–3,5–8,12–13,21.

[10] In the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, the tabernacle was erected … And he set the altar of burnt offering at the entrance of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered on it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the Lord had commanded Moses (Exodus 40:17,29).

[11] Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 383–384.

[12] Gordon R. Lewis and Bruce A. Demarest, Integrative Theology, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), 184.

[13] Exodus 6:6.

[14] Psalm 78:35.

[15] Deuteronomy 7:8.

[16] Deuteronomy 15:15.

[17] John 1:29.

[18] Ephesians 5:2.

[19] Hebrews 10:10,14.

[20] Hebrews 7:27.

[21] Hebrews 9:12–14.

[22] 1 Peter 1:18–19.

[23] Ephesians 2:13.

[24] Ephesians 1:7.

[25] Romans 5:8–9.

[26] 1 Corinthians 5:7.

[27] Matthew 26:28.