Theological Conference 4 – Jesus and Atonement

Click here to listen to Jesus and Atonement delivered by John Obelenus, Apr 28th 2008, Atlanta Georgia. To read the paper (click here).  Commentary by Sean Finnegan. 

John’s big idea is summarized in this statement, “We must make sense of Jesus’ crucifixion in light of his ministry, and his ministry in light of his crucifixion.”

    His outline followed these points 

  1. Jesus’ ministry defined by Isaiah
  2. Substitution from Isaiah
  3. Jesus’ actions as substitution
  4. Jesus’ claims about power in light of atonement
  5. Jesus’ authority challenge leads to trial
  6. Crucifixion as substitution
  7. Resurrection
  8. Conclusion

Jesus’ self understanding of his ministry is founded upon Isaiah 61 (as reflected both in his first sermon (Lk 4) and in his response to John the Baptist’s inquiry (Mt 11).

The substitution of Jesus for his people during his ministry made the basis for his substitution on the cross. In other words, the cross was not an isolated, disjointed event from his ministry, but its climax.

Isaiah 53 should not be viewed as merely the master text for Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, but this Old Testament section was embodied and lived out by Jesus during his ministry.

As an example for Jesus’ doing substitutionary work during his ministry, John offers the account of Zaccheus who he willing takes in and declares him to be a son of Abraham, not a sinner.

Furthermore, Jesus’ view of power, which, interestingly enough, comes up in the context of his prophecy of suffering and death, is fundamentally opposed to how the world sees power. Jesus’ view is that God’s power works through coming under others in service and this is what he intends to do when he suffers and dies–a seeming loss–but in fact, the greatest victory.

As the Messiah, Jesus represented Israel (like Moses had been), and as such he went about doing acts of restoration. He did so through healing and forgiveness while preaching the gospel that through repentance brings restoration.

Jesus’ death is first understood as the passover sacrifice for the people. Jesus’ disciples are encouraged to participate in his suffering and death through the elements of the lord’s supper.

In addition, in Jesus’ crucifixion, the themes of substitution and his critique of power come together. Perhaps best scene in the switch Jesus appears to make with Barabbas. Jesus the innocent goes to the death of violence that Barabbas should have gone to. Barabbas an insurrectionist and murderer goes free; the fate Jesus should have had because he was innocent.

Jesus dies the death for Israel so she will not need to die. He dies at the hands of the pagan nation, suffering the fiercest wrath of Rome, just like Assyria and Babylon had been used to punish God’s people before. Having taken the punishment for the people, Israel is now free to escape. Unfortunately only a remnant do get the point, while the rest, invigorated by a mixture of relgion and patriotism take up arms and were decimated by the Roman legions a generation later.

But, that’s not all. When we talk about atonement, we cannot not talk about resurrection as well. Many Jews were martyred at the hands of the Romans on their favorite torture device–the cross. However, with Jesus, a huge distinction is made. He is not guilty of any sin and God seals/vindicates him by raising him from the dead, effectively breaking the power of death and demonstrating to all that Jesus is his Son–the Messiah.

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