The Great Mystery
of the
Christian Religion

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The Problem.

Those who read the Bible and recognize that it is the Word of God intended for enlightenment, have no doubt that Jesus really lived here on earth and died on the Cross as related in the Gospels. Nor do they imagine that what happened to Him was mere misfortune, for they know that it had been foretold by Jewish prophets whose writings are in the Old Testament and were quoted by Jesus Himself, but they do not understand why His death was in the purpose of God. Very early in His ministry Jesus told His disciples plainly that it would be His fate to fall into the hands of enemies and be killed and although they did not understand Him, it is clear that Jesus Himself saw His death as a sacrifice which He would make on behalf of His friends. How did He know this? What does it mean, and why did He make no attempt to avoid the awful ordeal He saw before Him?

No believer can doubt that His death was in some way essential to salvation and yet no one appears really to know why it was necessary. It is true to say that amongst all the many sects of Christianity there is not one whose creed gives a clear explanation or can tell how it accomplished its purpose. What is the mysterious connection between Jesus dying on the Cross and our salvation? Is it not strange that Christians, who differ on so many things, are all agreed that we who believe are in some sense saved by the suffering of an innocent man and yet none can show any causal connection between the two things? These are the kind of questions which all thoughtful people ask but to which no reasoned answers are given by the Churches.

The nearest to an explanation is the view that Jesus was an example of a man faithful unto death; that He died as a martyr, proving His faith and trust in His Father so complete that He went to His death to declare it. There is some truth in this but it is clearly quite inadequate. He was indeed faithful unto death, but He was not unique in this. Many Christian believers have endured the most dreadful deaths for their faith, but none are regarded as having sacrificed themselves for others as the Scriptures represent Jesus to have done. There have been many examples of heroic people who have lost their lives in saving others, but none of them are paralleled with the death of Jesus or their sacrifice regarded as having any redemptive value. Why is it Jesus could say that He came "to give his life a ransom for many"? What was the unique factor in His death which makes it different from all others? The purpose of this leaflet is to give the answers to these questions and show where there is an adequate explanation to be found. It is not on the surface, not in the propositions of a creed but it is there for those who have the eyes to see and the desire to know and while its roots go to the depths of revealed truth it is not so profound that an ordinary simple believer cannot grasp it. One should not be frightened off on the pretext that the subject is too deep - it is not so and we are intended to understand; that is the purpose of the Bible. All that is required is a humble teachable spirit and a willingness to unlearn one or two of the dogmas we have inherited from the past.

Man In Nature.

The foundation fact of the Christian revelation is that man is a corruptible creature with a similar physical nature to all the animal species. This is confirmed by everything we learn from science and experience. Made in the image of God means that man has the capacity to reason and a freewill. We can choose to do good things or evil; we can seek to find God and we can hope for a better life, but we are not "immortal souls" nor anything more than natural creatures with a limited span of life (Genesis 2:7). The ultimate purpose of God with this part of creation is to bring the earth into a state of perfection, inhabited by an immortal population under the reign of Jesus Christ, in fulfilment of the promises made to Abraham. The selection of those people who are chosen to have a part in this future age of glory has been going on throughout the history of the race, in antediluvian times, during all Jewish history, and since the advent of Christ, through the Gospel. These are the ones spoken of in Hebrews who "all died in faith, not having received the promises," but their names are recorded in "The Book of Life" and when Jesus returns to establish the Kingdom of God they will be raised to life again with immortality and with those who are still living changed to incorruptible nature, will be the heirs of the Kingdom (1 Thessalonians 4).

People have different views about the literalness of the Bible account of creation but there is no dispute that the teaching underlying the Genesis story is that when man first became conscious of himself as a person he had the innocence of a child. To develop character he had to learn to distinguish right from wrong and he needed the experience of good and evil and for this reason he was placed under a simple law requiring obedience. When he disobeyed he incurred the sentence of death (Genesis 2:17) and deserved to die. This was not, as Christians have generally believed, a sentence to natural death implying that he commenced to decline towards dissolution, but a legal condemnation to judicial execution. If this had been carried out, he would have perished and the human race would have ended there and then, but his life was spared and he became the progenitor of the family of man to which we belong. But he and his offspring were now in a changed relationship to God, signified by the expulsion from Eden and barring from the Tree of Life - alienated by sin. The so-called Christian doctrine of the Fall, involving the theory that human nature was changed to a defiled condition which makes men sinful, is as mythical as the immortality of the soul. Original Sin is an invention and no part of the Christian religion. If it were true, then it would mean that God was responsible for all the evil in the world, since only He could have made us sinful in our nature.

The symbolism of Genesis therefore (e.g. 3:17-24) teaches the first lesson in religion, that those who disobey God's just laws do not deserve to live. But it also shows us that our Creator is a loving God and will be to us a merciful Father, not willing that we should die as sinners, but rather that we should live by faith - meaning that there is open to us, by belief in the Gospel, a way to attain to a better life which we could not obtain by perfectness even if we could succeed in living a perfect life. The object and the scope of this faith is defined by our understanding of what Jesus meant when He said "I lay down my life for my sheep."

The vital element in the faith which makes a true believer is realization of our unworthiness and need of mercy - the Bible term is repentance. This is why the prayer "God be merciful to me a sinner" was heard and the other not. The ceremonial sacrifice involving bloodshed, first offered when Adam was clothed with skins, a type of forgiveness, is not a thing familiar to Western people, but it was appointed as the only way of approach to God. This was not because He takes any pleasure in the killing of innocent creatures, but because the ritual required the exercise of that faith in which His sovereign authority is acknowledged.

Sacrifice In Principle.

When a Hebrew brought an unblemished lamb as a sin-offering and its life was ended by the shedding of its blood, it was a practical demonstration of his recognition that in strict justice he himself deserved to die, because he had transgressed some point of the Law. But when he made the appropriate sacrifice and confessed his guilt, he was saved from the penalty he had incurred (Numbers 9:14) and the life of his sin-offering was accepted instead of his own. This is the principle underlying the law of sacrifice and it provides the key to an understanding of the great sacrifice of Christ which was foreshadowed.

Referring to the sacrifices in the Mosaic system, the Epistle to the Hebrews (10:1-4) says, "It was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin," and the reason is evident. The life of an animal was not the equivalent of the life of a man and while it was accepted to obtain remission of personal sins, no offering of a lamb could give effective deliverance from an indebtedness in which the life of the whole race had been lost by disobedience in the beginning. The many ceremonial offerings made under the Law and the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement were primarily part of the educational process of Israel and their purpose was to lead them to Christ, but they were of no efficacy to remove the constitutional alienation by which - for the very special purpose of making it possible for sinners to be saved - all men are regarded as in Adam. That is why it says that for salvation it needed a "better sacrifice than these" and "so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9).

When John the Baptist said of Jesus "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world," He was not referring to the general sinfulness of mankind, for this is clearly still very much with us. What Jesus took away on behalf of those who accept Him as their Saviour, is that condemnation by which we are all alienated from the Father in Heaven and legally dead even while we are physically living.

The life which was lost by sin was that life breathed into Adam when he became a living soul and although, reprieved from death he was able to pass on his physical life to his offspring, they were nevertheless born in the legally dead state and doomed to perish. Hope was only possible in the mercy of God, and this was shown when Jesus declared the purpose of His coming into the world in the words of John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."


What exactly did Jesus mean by His life a ransom for many? One definitive statement which throws light on this is in the Apostle Paul's farewell to the Church at Ephesus. "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock... which he hath purchased with his own blood." How were they purchased and how could His blood be the price? The answer is in the law of redemption set out in 25th Leviticus and other places. These provided that an inheritance lost by reason of the poverty or misfortune of its owner, or a person sold into bondage could be redeemed by the payment of ransom money. In Israel, a near kinsman had not only the right, but a duty towards his poorer brother, if he had the means, to buy back his freedom. The principle, on a national scale, was established that every adult person and every firstborn domestic animal, was to be ransomed for a fixed price or put to death, "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than a shekel... to make an atonement for your souls" (Leviticus 30:15). Thus the Mosaic Law, in which our Christian religion has its roots, makes the recognition of man's alienated state an issue of life and death.

In his inspired exposition of the Federal Principle in the Epistle to the Romans, St. Paul explains how through the one act of disobedience the many were constituted sinners - not made to be sinful but delivered into the power of SIN, or in the figure he uses, sold into bondage to sin personified as a slave-owner, from which captivity they could only be freed by someone with the necessary price in his own possession to pay the ransom. This is what Jesus did when He gave His life for the life of the world - He purchased us back to God at the cost of His own life which was in the blood that was shed when He died on the Cross – a life for a life. In the terrible mental agony of Gethsemane, knowing what lay before Him, Jesus endured because He realized that He was indeed the Lamb of God, slain prophetically from the foundation of the world. From Moses and the Prophets He had learned that to Justify the forbearance of God in passing over the sins and to uphold the supremacy of Divine Law, the debt incurred by sin had to be paid and He knew that He alone could pay it and not perish. This is why He answered not a word to His false accusers, but allowed Himself to be crucified, bearing a condemnation which was utterly unjust and a penalty He had never deserved, in order to cancel, by the forfeit of His own life the liability which sinners could not pay themselves without perishing for ever.

The ransom principle is the only solution compatible with reason to the problem which has troubled Christians for centuries, of why Jesus had to be the Son of God. The only alternative, that it was to endow Him with the power to resist temptation which we lack, is utterly offensive. As a child of Mary, Jesus was a man like other men, a member of the human family and capable of suffering temptation and pain like ourselves, but He was brought into existence by the miracle of the Virgin Birth. Mary bore Him, and she supplied the material elements of His being, His flesh and blood, but she did not give Him life. This came direct from the source of all life, by the operation of the Holy Spirit as related in the Gospels. The crucial importance of this lies in the fact that although His mother was a descendant of Adam, Jesus did not belong to the Adamic family but to God. His mother was a chosen member of a redeemed people, "the handmaid of the Lord," herself the subject of the ransom paid under the Law, and therefore to speak, as some do, of Jesus inheriting condemnation through her or of His blood defiled by sin, is an offence against reason.

Jesus was human, not divine, but His divine origin constituted Him the only one of the human race whose life had not been forfeited by sin and who therefore had in His possession the price of redemption. He had learned that He was the near-kinsman of His brother who had sold himself into bondage under Sin, and the right of redemption pertained to Him. He alone had the "anti-lutron," the ransom, a free unforfeited life, which He could pay if He chose, to redeem Adam and all who are included in him under the federal principle, purchasing them back to God. This, apart from His sinlessness, is the difference between Him and us to which Paul refers when he wrote, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich." His riches were His life; our poverty was that we were without God and without hope in the world because of sin.

Those who have sought to explain His death as a vicarious punishment or as the destruction of a sinful nature have done both Him and His Father a grievous wrong. Him because if His death was in any sense necessary for His own deliverance it could not have been a sacrifice on behalf of others, and God because it would be totally unjust to punish the innocent in order that the guilty might go free. Jesus undoubtedly suffered for sins, as St. Peter says, "the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God," but the principle of The Atonement is not punishment but the redemption of sinners. The idea that the wrath of God against us was averted by inflicting upon Jesus what we deserved is a mockery of justice and abhorrent in the extreme. Seen as a sacrifice provided by God Himself and voluntarily entered into by Jesus of His own free will, it is indeed a revelation of His love and readiness to forgive and calls forth our love and gratitude.

Some may ask, "If He was not Himself in some way liable to death, why could God require such a sacrifice from Jesus?" The answer is that God never did require it, in the sense of a test of obedience. His purpose required that Justice and law should be upheld and if sinners were to be saved a ransom had to be found, and this purpose was entrusted to Jesus, but He was not obliged to obey - it was with Him a free choice. "No man taketh it from me, I lay it down of myself" (John 10:18). He submitted Himself to the will of His Father because He knew what was at stake. Even at the last hour, impaled on the Cross, He had it in His power to summon legions of angels to deliver Him; but He endured "for the joy that was set before him" knowing that if His courage failed, His Father's plan for this creation would have failed.

"His Blood Be On Us."

As the Gospel account shows clearly, the plot against Jesus, His trial and crucifixion, were the doing of ordinary human beings acting of their own volition, and as they thought, in their own best national interest. They were perhaps not much worse than their counterparts in the world today, who would be capable of committing the same crime in similar circumstances. It did not need supernatural influence to move them to murderous fury against the man who had made their hypocrisy so obvious, far less the hand of God. The envy and hatred they nurtured in their own hearts was quite sufficient to determine His destruction. It has to be recognized that God knew from the beginning what would happen to Jesus, for it was foretold in the promise to Eve of a Seed who should bruise the serpent's head, but God did not bring it about. The events which led to His condemnation were the result of the interaction of human affairs, foreknown in Heaven and made the foundation of the plan of redemption. When the prophet Isaiah says, "It pleased the Lord to bruise him" it simply means that He made the deliberate choice to allow His own Son to suffer, if He could endure, in order to make possible the salvation of the world.

It need hardly be said that no sacrifice could be in itself of any benefit to God and only the response it evokes in us has any value. Even those made by Israel came to be an evil stench when they were offered without understanding. In those days, God was terrifying and unapproachable and would be the same to us apart from Christ. As creatures, we cannot even conceive the person, far less the mind of Him who has made all things, who is everywhere present and in all, who is eternal in time and almighty, but He has entered into human affairs in a strange and unique way and it is clearly the intention that we should seek to know why. In His infinite wisdom He has chosen to make our hope of a future life conditional upon acceptance of what in history was simply the wicked murder of a man who was innocent and utterly good, as a sacrifice made by God Himself to save us, and when it comes to light that this man was His only-begotten Son, the child born to be heir of all things "My beloved, in whom I am well pleased," God is revealing Himself as a loving Father, and, what no words nor any other means could similarly express, the love He has towards all mankind in that this was the one He gave in order that we might not perish. Is it not clearly His expectation that we should recognize that He has feelings like ourselves and that He must have suffered in the same way as any father would suffer, only more deeply, in the anguish of His Son? If God could not experience in person the sufferings of Jesus, who can doubt that He suffered in seeing His chosen one, holy and harmless, rejected by men and cruelly put to death? We cannot know how or to what extent One who is God is capable of sorrow, but we can be sure that this is what it is the purpose of the Atonement to make plain, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself and that the cost was very great.

The impact of this knowledge upon our minds is the thing that matters, and the purpose of the writer has been to explain the meaning of the facts and what they tell us about God. When a believer is baptised, it is a symbolic dying and burial which testifies to his faith that Jesus literally died for him, and he is the subject of an immediate change of status, a liberation resulting from rebirth. He is no longer under Sin and condemnation, but set free; no longer an alien but an adopted child of God. Our salvation therefore has actually happened - it is not something in the doubtful future - we were saved through the love of God when the life blood of Jesus poured from the fatal wounds inflicted by evil men. That is the glory of the true Christian revelation. This is what God wishes us to know and to put our trust in. That is why it is based upon a Scripture principle which is unchangeable - ransom - a transaction in history which can never be altered or reversed. A price, a life, has been paid to redeem us to God, and because it can never be recovered we can have the assurance, now and for ever, that living or dead we belong to God, and, weak as we may be and needing to ask for forgiveness, if we do not deny Him. He will never deny us. We know that we shall receive the Aonian life when Jesus returns because He died to secure it to us under the promise of God, and God cannot break His promise

Ernest Brady

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