Since God is God and He could have orchestrated human events any way he chose, it behooves us to ask the question why did he do the thing he did. Could God have done things a different way. Specifically...If salvation (and thus the cross) was not necessary to God’s self-sufficiency, yet He freely decided to do it, then in what sense(s) does this contingent reality (the atonement) exhibit necessary attributes?
Since God’s free choice was to show mercy, there are 5 attributes that must follow that I will focus on in this post:
- There is still a punishment for sin required.
- The punishment must be inflicted on more than a mere man if reconciliation is the design. A God-man must be the substitute on whom the punishment is levied.
- The perfect substitute must have been a willing sacrifice.
- Jesus must have risen from the dead
- The ultimate motive for the cross must be to glorify God.
There is still a punishment for sin required.
“Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.” Isaiah 43:7
In the beginning God created Adam and Eve in His image and His likeness. Their design was to reflect back to God His perfect and infinite worth. He got the glory and they had the joy of perfect fellowship with Him. God only required certain conditions for them to meet. They were to be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth-positively, and they were to eat from any tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil-negatively. This was the first covenant that God established with man commonly called the covenant of works. Life was offered for obedience, and death for disobedience. They ate, thereby sinning and as a consequence brought spiritual death (and physical-later) upon themselves and the whole human race because they “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man...” Romans 1:23. At that moment in time, the only thing that was necessary for God to do was to be Himself, i.e, be just, and punish those who despised His infinite worth. God chose to show mercy. However He couldn’t simply look the other way and ‘forgive’. This crime was an infinite crime because it was against His infinite worth, and punishment was still required otherwise God would show himself unjust and therefore despise His own glory-Proverbs 17:15, Romans 3:25.
The punishment must be inflicted on more than a mere man if reconciliation is the design. A perfect God-man must be the substitute on whom the punishment is levied.
“No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him for the redemption of his soul is costly...But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Psalm 49:7-8, 15 Sinful man’s ransom was simply too costly for a mere man to pay because of the One who was sinned against. Jesus Christ the God-man had to step into time and taste death for His people in order for mercy to have been shown. His human nature was necessary in order to represent mankind to God-Hebrews 2:17-18, and His Divine nature was necessary in order to meet the infinite demand of the crime. (His Divine nature included his perfect sinless obedience of which Adam and the rest of us fall short of.) God’s plan in mercy was not that sin would merely be forgiven, but rather that relationship would be restored. The God-man is the only one who could have accomplished these things-1 Peter 3:18.
The perfect substitute must have been a willing sacrifice.
“He who justifies the wicked and He who condemns the righteous, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.” Proverbs 17:15
God in punishing Jesus for the sins of many is not unjust because Jesus laid down His life on His own accord-John 10:17-18. He being the second person of the Trinity is equally offended by the sin of mankind. He willingly put HImself on the cross and it wasn’t an abomination because He was the very Lawgiver to whom the payment for sin was required. “The LORD was pleased to crush Him” Isaiah 53:10. His position (Divine) and His passion (willing sacrifice) were necessary in order for God to show mercy.
Jesus must have risen from the dead
“He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” Romans 4:25
“...If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless, you are still in your sins.” 1 Corinthians 15:17
If after Christ died in our behalf, He did not also rise from the dead, our hope is lost! We have our sins paid for, but no life. Jesus conquered sin and death for us-Hebrews 2:14, and we have the hope of life because He lives we know that we shall also live again-2 Corinthians 13:4. It’s also necessary because His resurrection is connected to our justification, if He didn’t rise from the dead, we would not be righteous in His sight-Rom 4:25.
The ultimate motive for the cross must be to glorify God.
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake.” 1 John 2:12
“I, even I, am the one who wipes our your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25
The ultimate “must” when it comes to this contingent reality is the necessity of the whole atonement pointing to God. God must be the ultimate beneficiary of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Yes we get our sins paid for, but the ultimate reason must be to glorify Himself. All things including the bloody cross must be aimed at God and His Glory! If we are the aim, then God is seeking after something higher than Himself which violates His word: “You shall have no other gods before Me” Exodus 20:3 God must be the aim and chief end of all things that He does: “...and He [Jesus] died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” 2 Corinthians 5:15. This verse is saying that Jesus died so that we would live for Him, in essence, Jesus died so that we could make much of Him. Christ died for Christ.