Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Did Christ’s Sacrifice Appease the Father or the entire Godhead?

Part C

Sam Shamoun

In this final section of our series (A, B) we are going to see how all three Divine Persons of the Godhead were involved in presenting Christ as a sin offering.

According to the inspired Christian Greek Scriptures, the Lord Jesus came as our High Priest in order to present himself as a sacrifice for the sins committed by all those whom God effectually calls to salvation:

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.” Hebrews 3:1

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16

“For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life… Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” Hebrews 7:14-16, 23-28

“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:10-14

In fact, the Holy Scriptures consistently teach that the Lord Jesus voluntarily gave himself up for the sins of his people:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” John 10:14-18

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,” Galatians 1:3-4

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (kai paredoken heauton hyper hemon), a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her (kai heaton paredoken hyper autes),” Ephesians 5:1-2, 25

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6

“while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us (hos edoken heauton hyper hemon) to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:13-14

Yet these same inspired writings attest that God himself was personally involved in offering up his Son on behalf of everyone who by his sovereign look to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. The NT even employs the same language to describe what God did in offering the Son that it does in relation to the Son willingly offering himself:

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:25-26

“For God so loved the world that he gave (edoken) his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

He who did not spare (epheisato) his own Son, but gave him up for us all (alla hyper hemon paredoken auton)—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

Interestingly, this last verse employs language which is similar to the way the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures describes Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his one and only beloved son Isaac:

And it came to pass after these things that God tempted Abraam, and said to him, Abraam, Abraam; and he said, Lo! I am here. And he said, Take thy son, the beloved one, whom thou hast loved—Isaac, and go into the high land, and offer him there for a whole-burnt-offering on one of the mountains which I will tell thee of… And Isaac said to Abraam his father, Father. And he said, What is it, son? And he said, Behold the fire and the wood, where is the sheep for a whole-burnt-offering? And Abraam said, God will provide himself a sheep for a whole-burnt-offering, my son. And both having gone together, came to the place which God spoke of to him; and there Abraam built the altar, and laid the wood on it, and having bound the feet of Isaac his son together, he laid him on the altar upon the wood. And Abraam stretched forth his hand to take the knife to slay his son. And an angel of the Lord called him out of heaven, and said, Abraam, Abraam. And he said, Behold, I am here. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the child, neither do anything to him, for now I know that thou fearest God, and for my sake thou hast not spared (epheiso) thy beloved son… And an angel of the Lord called Abraam the second time out of heaven, saying, I have sworn by myself, says the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and on my account hast not spared (epheiso) thy beloved son, Genesis 22:1-2, 7-12, 15-16 LXX

The similarity in language demonstrates that God took an active role in offering up his Son just as Abraham did when he presented his son as a burnt offering. In other words, just as Abraham was not a passive observer when he offered up Isaac neither was God the Father passive when he willfully gave up his Son for us all.

The following passage is an OT prophecy of the substitutionary death and subsequent glorification of Yahweh’s Servant, the Messiah:

“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness—so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because HE POURED OUT HIS LIFE UNTO DEATH, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, AND MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.” Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Both the Lord Jesus and his followers took this to be a prediction of Christ’s atoning death and his ascension into heaven after his resurrection. The NT in several places alludes to the very language of this specific prophecy to describe Christ’s ministry, especially his sufferings and exaltation (cf. Matthew 12:15-21; Luke 22:37; 24:44-46; Acts 2:33-36; 3:13-15, 26; 4:27, 30; 5:31; 8:26-38; Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:21-25).

What makes this prediction relevant to our discussion is that it attributes the work of the Servant’s vicarious sacrifice to both Yahweh and the Servant himself. It is Yahweh who makes the Servant’s life an offering for sin and at the same time it is also the Servant who willingly pours out his life unto death on behalf of transgressors. Therefore, since the NT identifies Yahweh in this context as the Father and the Servant as the Son this means that both the Father and the Son were fully involved in offering up the Servant as a sacrifice for sin.

Moreover, the same inspired Scriptures further teach that Christ offered himself to the Father as a perfect, sinless sacrifice through the eternal Spirit:

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Hebrews 9:11-15

In fact, there is a repeated emphasis throughout the Gospels and Acts on the active role that the Holy Spirit played in empowering Christ to successfully carry out his divine mission:

“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’” Matthew 1:18-21

“In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’ ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” Luke 1:26-35

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:9-11

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.” Luke 4:1-2

“Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”’” John 1:32-33

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” Luke 4:14-21

“But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”Matthew 12:28

“In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” Acts 1:1-2

“You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached — how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Acts 10:37-38

This indicates that the Holy Spirit also was involved in the offering up of Jesus as a perfect sacrificial substitute for all the sinners that he came into the world to save.

In light of the foregoing it is demonstrably clear that the Holy Bible affirms that Jesus’ vicarious death was a work of the Triune God. All three Persons were involved in presenting Christ as an acceptable and pleasing sacrifice on behalf of sinners.

And, as we saw in our previous discussion, these same Scriptures also testify that Christ offered himself to God the Father who then accepted it on behalf of the entire Godhead collectively. Christ didn’t merely die to appease the Father’s wrath towards rebel sinners, but sacrificed himself to satisfy the perfect justice and righteousness of all three Divine Persons of the one true God.

Liberal NT scholar James D. G. Dunn does a fine job of putting this all together in his discussion on the early Christians’ worship of Christ and whether they made sacrifices to the risen Lord:

“… The point of relevance for us that emerges, however, is that in earliest Christianity, Christ was never understood as the one to whom sacrifice was offered, even when the imagery of sacrifice was used symbolically for Christian service. Christ was less frequently understood as the priest who made the sacrifice, the exception being in the letter to the Hebrews, where Christ is both sacrificing High Priest and sacrificial victim! Even in the book of Revelation, Christ is ‘the Lamb who had been slaughtered’. If then being offered sacrifice is ‘the ultimate criterion of deity’, Jesus would not seem to qualify. Yet at the same time we should recall that Paul saw the death of Jesus as an act of God: God put Christ forward as a sacrifice of atonement (Rom. 3.25); it is Christ’s death that demonstrates the love of God (5.8). The logic seems to run counter to the rationale of sacrifice as offered to God. So if God is on both sides of the transaction, presumably we should not press a strict subject-object antithesis in considering to whom the sacrifice of Christ was offered. Perhaps if God was on both sides of the sacrifice of Christ, so also Jesus was somehow on both sides – not as the one to whom sacrifice was offered in the death of Christ, but as bound up with the receiving of God just as much as God was bound up in the giving of Christ as sacrifice.” (Dunn, Did the First Christians Worship Jesus – The New Testament Evidence [Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY 2010)], 2. The practice of worship, 2.4 Sacrifice, p. 56; bold emphasis ours)

Indeed, that is precisely what the inspired NT records proclaim, namely, that salvation is a glorious and majestic work of the Triune God from beginning to end. The Holy Bible affirms that all three Divine Persons were/are fully involved in and responsible for saving a people for the glory of the one eternal God of all creation.