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No Ordinary Death

Jesus Christ, The Propitiation For Our Sins

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Perhaps James Denny put it best when he said, "The simplest word of faith is the deepest word of theology: Christ died for our sins."

There is no way this side of eternity we will ever be able to fully understand the words of our Lord recorded in Matthew 27:46: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" As the mob mocked him, and while the thief who was crucified next to him hurled insults at him, our Lord's thoughts turned not to his own physical anguish or the ridicule he faced from onlookers. His mind was on something far different from that of most dying men--his dying lament was the anguish he felt at being estranged from his heavenly Father, whose wrath he bore as he faced an excruciating death by crucifixion. The Father he had known from all eternity had now turned his back on his only begotten son. Just moments after uttering these awesome words, he took his final breath. The significance of his death was only then slowly being grasped by those who watched him give up his spirit. For at the very moment when his heart ceased beating the afternoon sky was suddenly darkened and terra firma itself shuddered beneath his cross. This was no ordinary death.

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1 [ Back ] Leon Morris, The Atonement: Its Meaning and Significance (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 153.
2 [ Back ] Ibid., p. 154.
3 [ Back ] Ibid., pp. 158 ff.
4 [ Back ] Historically, the Reformed have based the notion of "particular redemption" on the idea of propitiation, namely that Christ's death actually appeases the wrath of God toward the sinners for whom Christ is said to die. If God's anger is actually appeased by the death of his Son, how then could God punish sinners a second time after Christ had propitiated God's anger toward them? If you don't limit the atonement's extent, you must limit its efficacy and, in effect, this leaves you with a propitiation that ultimately doesn't propitiate! Thus the Reformed argue that Christ's death was designed to turn aside God's righteous anger toward the sin of the elect specifically, and not to make salvation possible for mankind generically.
5 [ Back ] See C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (New York: Harper and Bros., 1932), pp. 22-23.
6 [ Back ] John Miley, Systematic Theology (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1894), II.169. See B. B. Warfield's decimating critique of Miley's efforts in B. B. Warfield, "Review of Systematic Theology by John Miley" in Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. 2 (ed., John E. Meeter) (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 308-320.
7 [ Back ] The NIV margin notes do, however, give the preferred translation of hilasmos-hilasteerion, "turning aside wrath, taking away sin."
8 [ Back ] Morris, The Atonement, p. 151.

Kim Riddlebarger is pastor of Christ United Reformed Church (Anaheim, California) and co-host of The White Horse Inn radio broadcast. He is author of A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times and Man of Sin: Uncovering the Truth about the Antichrist (Baker, 2006). Kim blogs at

Issue: "Saved from God by God" March/April 1996 Vol. 5 No. 2 Page number(s): 18-21

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