The Atonement – The Historical Background to the Cross

The Atonement – The Historical Background to the Cross April 11, 2007

In a previous post in this series on the atonement, we asked, “Does the Cross of Jesus Matter?” Today we will look at the historical background surrounding the cross in the Bible. You will find a list of some of the most recent posts about the atonement from my blog at the end of this post — and if you follow the xml link you will see a longer list.

This series is based on teaching I first gave at Jubilee Church. If you want a sneak preview of what is coming you can download the audio (you may need to right click and save to your PC) or listen online here:

Mark Dever’s masterful book, The Message of the Old Testament — Promises Made, rightly states that the message of the Old Testament is that there were certain promises being made. These promises were all to be fulfilled in Christ. It is not a cliché to say that, in one way or another, the whole of the Old Testament points to Christ — and in particular to His cross.

From the fall of Adam, to the flood, to the Exodus, the Passover, animal sacrifices, the life of heroes like King David, and the encounter of Isaiah with a terrifying God who cleanses his sin, we see the coming of Jesus prefigured. Many of these images simply require a form of atonement in Jesus which includes some of the difficult concepts like a God of wrath who hates sin and will punish it.

The God of the Old Testament has made certain demands on us which form the law. We cannot seem to obey the law without sinning. Therefore, we are left in a terrible place — being under his wrath.

Some people believe they can make a different God from the New Testament than the wrathful, jealous, and vengeful God we see in the Old Testament. The problem with that is — the New Testament nowhere repudiates the image of God that we are left with from the Old.

The Old Testament, however, does not merely portray God as angry and full of hatred towards sin. From the first pages of Genesis — where we see God promising to kill Adam and Eve the day they eat the fruit, and yet He does not do so, promising instead a future deliverance — we see a mystery.

The mystery is simply this: how can a holy and just God love and forgive sinful mankind whilst remaining just? This is the question of the Old Testament. We are left with a massive question after an honest reading of the book. How can God be just and still forgive sin?

This question is raised nowhere more clearly than in Exodus 4, where the two sides of God are clearly described. Since we are all guilty, we are left with a problem for which the Old Testament largely does not offer a clear solution. God is both loving and forgiving, yet never “clears” the guilty. Any understanding of the cross has to contain within it the answer to this dilemma.

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty . . .” (Exodus 34:6-7).

Continues with The Atonement – The Mission of Jesus

The latests posts from my blog about the atonement can be seen below. For more, follow the xml link:

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