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THREAD: John 18-21, Penal Substitutionary Atonement, and its Doubters.

AIM: To break the 100-tweet-thread barrier, still the voices in my head, and possibly engage in some exegesis along the way. Please join me if you’re so inclined.

Over recent years, the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement (hereafter ‘PSA’) has attracted a significant number of criticisms.

One of the more novel and popular among them concerns the issue of PSA’s provenance.
‘The Gospels’, one writer claims, ‘do not address the subject of the cross in the way Christians wish they had’.

They are ‘not particularly concerned with the question of how Jesus’ death enables sinners to be forgiven’ (which, of course, is what PSA purports to explain);
their primary concern is to set forth the fact of Jesus’ enthronement as the climax of Israel’s history.

As a result, many Christians view the Gospels as ‘background-narratives to a death whose significance is determined by a scheme imported from outside’.
In the present thread, I argue otherwise.

PSA is not a notion which needs to be imported into the Gospels; on the contrary, it is hardwired into the Gospels’ shape and detail.

In the context of a brief thread (!?), I can’t hope to interact with the Gospels as a whole.
I’ve therefore taken the text of John 18–21 as a test case and have sought to determine:

a] how and what it teaches us about the nature of Jesus’ sacrifice, and

b] the extent to which it affirms PSA.

Briefly put, I agree with the *premise* of the criticism outlined above.
The text of John 18–21 does not answer our questions in the way we might have liked/expected.

Or, to put the point more positively, John does things in his own way; his theology is conveyed by means of actions and images rather than explicit doctrinal formulations.
But there my agreement with the above criticism ends.

For John, Jesus’ sacrifice is (at least) voluntary, substit’nary, penal, & propitiatory.

Despite many claims to the contrary, John’s gospel *is* concerned with the question of how Jesus’ death enables sinners to be forgiven.
== 1.1 Substitution ==

As we pick up the story in John 18, the stage is set.

Jesus has recently been anointed in anticipation of his burial, and the Pharisees are now ready to make their final move (12.9–10).

Jesus’ death looms large on the horizon.
But, for John, Jesus’ is no normal death. It is a death which Jesus chooses to die, and one which he will die on behalf of others.

Consider, by way of illustration, the events of 18.1–9.

Jesus is well aware of Judas’ plan to betray him,
yet, after supper, he nevertheless chooses to descend into the darkness of the Kidron valley—a place where he can easily be captured, unprotected by the presence of ‘the crowds’.

Not long afterwards, Judas and his soldiers arrive.

Judas’s soldiers do not recognise Jesus.
Jesus could easily, therefore, conceal his identity and slip away in the night.

But, instead, he walks towards the (armed) soldiers and openly declares his identity, which allows his disciples to escape unharmed.

Just as Jesus will go to Calvary voluntarily,
so he will go to the Sanhedrin voluntarily, and will do so on behalf of others.

‘I am he!’, Jesus declares. ‘If it is me you seek, let these (other) men go!’.

These particularities are not included simply for the sake of historical accuracy/completeness;
they provide the context in which John wants us to view Jesus’ death.

Had Jesus not handed himself over to Judas’s soldiers, his disciples would have been captured & crucified alongside him.

As such, Jesus lays his life down ὑπὲρ τῶν φίλων αὐτοῦ = ‘for his friends’.
He is led away captive so others might go free, ultimately to die so others might live (3.16).

That Jesus died in order to preserve the lives of twelve then-unknown Israelites might, of course, seem a rather trivial picture of as sacrifice as epic as Jesus’.
But, as Peter Leithart points out, Jesus’ disciples were not random bystanders or insignificant individuals;

they were men whom Jesus had specifically chosen out in order to inaugurate his earthly kingdom—men whom Jesus had specifically promised to keep and protect (18.9).
Had these men been slain, Jesus’ kingdom would have been built on sand.

It would have been founded on the word of a man unable to keep his promises (and, worse, unable to accomplish the Father’s will).
== 1.2 A brief aside: Substitution related imagery ==

Ch. 18’s substitutionary undertones are not restricted to the events of the Kidron valley; they look forward to—and are expanded on by—the imagery involved in John’s crucifixion scene.
Particularly relevant are the images of wine and water.

For John, wine is associated with joy and fellowship (2.1–10), while water is a symbol of the outpoured Holy Spirit—‘the water of life’ which alone can satisfy man’s thirst.
On the cross, however, water and wine are withheld from Jesus.

As Israel prepares to enjoy the wine and fellowship of the Passover meal, Jesus is left thirsty and abandoned (cp. ‘I thirst!’), offered only the sour vinegar of the Roman soldiers.

Or, to put the point another way,
Jesus is made to thirst so the thirst of others might be satisfied,

which, of course, is the very essence of substitution.
== 1.3 The scope of substitution ==

As we’ve seen, then, Jesus’ surrender in the Kidron valley is an act of substitution: Jesus gives himself up to the Jewish authorities, which enables his disciples to escape.

But Jesus doesn’t die *only* for the sake of his disciples.
In 18.13, where John reintroduces Caiaphas into the story, John reminds us of an important piece of information, viz.,

Caiaphas was the one who had said,…One man should die for the people (ὑπὲρ τοῦ λαοῦ)!
John’s remark is not simply intended to jog the memories of the less attentive among his readers; John wants us to teach us about the nature—and in particular the scope—of Jesus’ death.

Caiaphas’s statement can be understood in at least two ways.

First, at face value.
Caiaphas wanted to dispose of Jesus in order to spare his people, Israel.

Earlier in John’s gospel, the authorities had identified Jesus as someone with the potential to stir Israel up against the Romans (with disastrous results: 11.48–52),
in response to which Caiaphas had declared, ‘Better, then, let one man die on behalf of (ὑπὲρ) the people!’.

The plot to dispose of Jesus had hence been born (11.53), and, here in ch. 18, it is about to come to fruition.
Rather than allow Jesus’ ministry to continue (at the risk of Israel’s place in the empire), the chief priests will hand Jesus over to the Romans.

Per Caiaphas’s statement, Jesus will be slain, and will hence spare not only his disciples,
but the entire nation/state of Israel from destruction (albeit only temporarily).

As such, John portrays Jesus’ death as relevant not only to his disciples, but to all Israel.

But Caiaphas’s statement also hints at a deeper reality.
True, Jesus will ‘die for his people’ insofar as his death will preserve Israel’s place within the empire. But Jesus’ death will also meet a deeper need.

Israel’s problem is not ultimately her vassalage to Rome, but her enslavem’t to sin (8.34), which Jesus has come to abolish.
Just as Moses came to free the Israelites (from Pharaoh) and let them live as they should live, i.e., like YHWH’s firstborn son (Exod. 4.22–23), so Jesus has come to free his people from the bondage of sin and let them live as they should live, i.e., like ‘sons of God’ (8.45–35),
though to do so will require Jesus to serve as Israel’s Passover lamb (per 1.29), which, of course, is a substitutionary role.

For John, then, Jesus dies on behalf of—and as a substitute for—all Israel.

Of course, Jesus’ death is not limited to Israel, as we’ll soon see.
But, for the moment, let us move on to discuss the legal aspect of Jesus’ death.
== 2.1 The role of the law ==

If Caiaphas’s statement in ch. 18 concerns the substitutionary aspect of Jesus’ death, then the chief priests’ (in ch. 19) concerns its legal aspect, i.e., the relationship between Jesus’ death and the law.
‘We have a law’, the chief priests say (Caiaphas most likely included), ‘and, because of that law (κατὰ τὸν νόμον), Jesus ought to die!’.

As before, the chief priests’ statement can be understood in at least two ways.

First, it can be taken at face value.
The Jews do indeed have a law: they have a body of rules, developed by the accumulation of tradition and handed down to them by their ‘fathers’.

Jesus, however, shows little regard for these rules.

He performs many of his miracles on the Sabbath
(when he could just as easily have waited until Sunday).

And, on one occasion, he restores a blind man’s sight by means of a ‘paste’ he makes, which is a deliberately provocative act, since many authorities would have seen Jesus’ actions as ‘work’.
Given the Jews’ (oral) law, then, Jesus must die.

As far as the religious authorities are concerned, he is a law-breaker and must be punished as such.

Consequently—and quite remarkably—, Jesus will die a death reserved for the law’s transgressors
and associated with the law’s curse (Deut. 21.23),

yet Jesus himself will be innocent—a notion which we will expand on later. (Nothing in the passion narratives is an insignificant detail.)

But the Jews’ statement is also true in a deeper sense
(predicated on a different sense of the word ‘law’).

Given the stipulations of Mosaic law, if Jesus is to redeem his people, he must die.

God has clearly said, ‘I will not acquit the guilty’ (Exod. 23).
If, therefore, Jesus’ people are to be acquitted—viz. released from the law’s demands—, a penalty must be paid.

As such, Jesus’ death takes place κατὰ τὸν νόμον = ‘in accord with the law’ and its demands.
== 2.2 Penal substitution ==

We thus come the issue of guilt and penalty.

Suppose our discussion to date has been correct; that is to say, suppose John portrays Jesus’ death as substitutionary and penal.

The question remains,
How is Jesus’ death anything more than a travesty of justice? In what sense does Jesus die a death deserved by others?

The answer requires us to consider two important aspects of John’s passion.

The first is the nature of the chief priests’ charge against Jesus.
When Pilate asks the chief priests why they want Jesus hung, they do not cite their own laws or traditions.

They instead try to give Pilate an answer which he, as a Roman polytheist, will understand and sympathise with, namely,
‘because Jesus has made himself out to be the Son of God’ (19.5), and not only ‘the son of God’ but ‘God himself’ (10.33)!

Should the priests’ accusations be upheld? μὴ γένοιτο!

It is not Jesus who has acquired ideas above his station, but the chief priests themselves,
since the priests have exalted their traditions above the very law of God.

They are ‘thieves and robbers’ who have unlawfully claimed the role of Israel’s shepherd (cp. 10.8 w. Psa. 23), much to the detriment of the sheep.
For John, then, Jesus’ death is a penalty which his accusers deserve to pay.

They have condemned themselves by their own words.

Jesus’ death can also, however, be seen as a penalty which Pilate deserves to pay. How?
On the basis of the central tenets of the Mosaic law (cp. Exod. 23):

Do not endorse a false report.
Do not assist a wicked man
where a malicious testimony is involved.
Do not side with the multitudes where evil is involved,
nor follow the many where injustice is involved…
Have nothing to do with a false charge,
and do not put an innocent or honest person to death,
for I, YHWH, will not acquit the wicked.
These tenets are not ceremonial; they are foundational to justice.

And Pilate contravenes them at every point.

He sides with the multitude, condemns an innocent man, acquits a known criminal, and hence endorses a false charge—one motivated by malice rather than truth.
Indeed, Pilate scoffs at the idea of truth. (‘What is truth?’, he disdainfully asks.)

As such, Jesus’ death can be seen as a penalty which deserves to be paid not only by the chief priests, but by Pilate as well,

for when false charges are brought against a man in Mosaic law,
whatever penalty they would have incurred must be paid by his accusers (Deut. 19.18–19).

Hence, as people who have (unjustly) sentenced Jesus to death, Pilate and the chief priests are themselves worthy of death.
The second strand of our answer involves the notion of federal headship.

Caiaphas and Pilate are not isolated figures on the stage of world history; on the contrary, they represent entire people-groups.

Caiaphas is the appointed representative of the Jewish people,
while Pilate is a local horn/representative of the current worldpower, viz., Daniel’s apocalyptic beast/kingdom (cp. Dan. 7).

The guilt incurred by Caiaphas and Pilate is not, therefore, incurred by them alone.
Insofar as Israel and the nations have aligned themselves with their figureheads (be it in thought, word, or deed), they too incur Caiaphas and Pilate’s guilt,

just as the Jews who reject Jesus in Matt. 23 incur the guilt of their fathers,
namely the bloodguilt of the earth’s martyrs from Abel through to Zechariah (cp. Matt. 23.34–39).

As a result, Jesus’ trial is not simply a precursor to the crucifixion.

On the contrary, it is an event of epic significance and proportions in and of itself—
a microcosm of the way in which every man and woman must ultimately take their stand either for or against God.

The chief priests’ statement to Pilate reinforces the point.

‘If you choose to release Jesus’, they tell him, ‘you are no friend of Caesar’ (19.12).
Pilate is therefore faced with a binary decision—to be a friend of Caesar (and by that token an enemy of God: cp. Jas. 4) or a friend of Jesus (and by that token someone for whom Jesus has died: cf. 15.13)—,

which is the very decision every man and woman must ultimately make.
Again, nothing in the passion is irrelevant. (The Gospels are, after all, our sole record of the most important event in world history, which means they’re hard to over-read.)

Jesus’ trial also provides us with an exquisite picture of how Jesus is treated in heavenly terms.
In our text, two parties appear before Pilate: the chief priests and Jesus.

The chief priests’ behaviour is suspicious (as Pilate soon recognises: cp. 18.30–33), and Jesus is clearly innocent of their accusations.
(Indeed, Pilate declares Jesus to be innocent on three separate occasions.) And yet, remarkably, Jesus is saddled with the penalty which should have been borne by the chief priests.
In other words, Pilate treats an innocent man as if he is guilty and allows the guilty party to go free,

which provides us with an exquisite picture of a deeper theological event, namely,
τὸν μὴ γνόντα ἁμαρτίαν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἁμαρτίαν (θεὸς) ἐποίησεν = ‘(God) made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf’ (2 Cor. 5.21).

Consequently, what Pilate enacts in ‘earthly terms’ in John’s passion is simultaneously enacted in ‘heavenly terms’ (cp. 3.12),
not on the stone pavement before Pilate’s judgment seat, but on the sapphire pavement before God’s heavenly throne.

And why? So we who are unrighteous might become ‘the righteousness of God’.
== 2.3 Authority ==

More, however, needs to be said about the role of federal headship in John’s passion, since Caiaphas and Pilate are not the only federal heads in view.

In between these two kings stands a far more important federal head—Jesus—,
a man with a different kind of kingdom to Caiaphas’s and Pilate’s (18.36) but nonetheless a king, and one whom Caiaphas and Pilate have recently hailed as ‘King of the Jews’.

Of course, Caiaphas and Pilate’s actions were insincere (intended to mock rather than honour),
but John records them because he wants us to perceive their deeper significance (cp. Dan. 7.13–14).

What happens to Jesus in ch. 19 is not ultimately a rejection of Jesus’ authority, but an acknowledgement of it,
since what is done to Jesus in ch. 19 is precisely what the prophets say must be done to God’s Messiah.

As Paul says in relation to the chief priests’ treatment of Jesus,
In other words, Caiaphas’s treatment of Jesus does not nullify Jesus’ claims about himself, but confirms them, since it fulfils precisely what the prophets say must be done to Israel’s Messiah (and by extension creation’s king: Psa. 2).
For John, then, Jesus’ death is an act of enthronement.

That fact becomes even more significant when we consider what Pilate decides to inscribe above Jesus’ head.

Pilate acknowledges Jesus’ status as king in three distinct languages—Jewish Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.
Why would John bother to record such a thing? Why is it important for us to know?

My suggestion is follows:
because Jesus now has authority not only over the territory of Israel and the nations (hence the words ‘king of the Jews’ inscribed in Greek), but over the law (hence the Jewish Aramaic and Latin).
Jesus’ death gives him authority either to retain or to forgive men’s sins (20.22–23), whether committed under the Mosaic law (as symbolised by the Jewish Aramaic) or under common law (as symbolised by the Latin),

all of which is conclusively demonstrated in his resurrection.
O Death, where is your victory?, men will ask. O Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
== 3.1 Atonement ==

We thus come to the subject of atonement.

As we’ve seen, Jesus’ death is voluntary, penal, and substitutionary.

But in what sense is it an act of atonement? How is it reparatory/restorative?

Given our considerations to date,
we can already provide a *general* answer to these questions.

Since Jesus’ death is penal and substitutionary—i.e., since Jesus’ death is ‘for’ (ὑπὲρ) others—, it must clearly be reparatory in some way.
(Otherwise, in what sense would it be ‘for’ someone else? And in what sense would it ‘pay’ their penalty?)

But John also portrays Jesus’ death as reparatory in more specific ways.

For a start, John’s narrative includes a number of allusions to the cultic system.
Why? Because John wants us to interpret Jesus’ death as a Levitical sacrifice, i.e., a sacrifice which repairs man’s relationship with God.

Consider, for instance, the events listed below:
🔹 As Jesus enters the city, he is greeted with the words of Psa. 118.26 (‘Hosanna!’: cp. 12.13), which anticipate the words of the next verse, viz., ‘Bind the festal sacrifice to the altar with cords!’.
🔹 In the aftermath of his arrest, Jesus is bound up like a sacrifice29 (per Psa. 118.27) and led into the high priest’s courtyard.

🔹 The high priest’s courtyard has a distinctly cultic feel: it is attended by a man with a bloody ear (18.10 w. Lev. 8.23!),
manned by a ‘doorkeeper’ (a term employed almost exclusively in the context of the Temple30), and, like Israel’s altar, warmed by a charcoal fire.
🔹 And, while Jesus is able to enter the high-priest’s courtyard, Peter is forced to wait at the doorway and watch from a distance, like a commoner who has brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle.
In symbolical terms, then, the text of chs. 18–21 does not merely describe a journey into Jerusalem’s courtyard; it describes a journey to the very heart of Jerusalem’s sacrificial system.

In a sense, Peter *has* brought a sacrifice to the Tab’cle, just not in the normal way.
Equally significant are the resonances between John’s passion and Lev. 14’s purification ritual.

In Lev. 14, the man-to-be-purified is brought to the priest, examined, and led outside the camp, where a sacrifice is offered to the LORD,

all of which is echoed in John’s passion.
More noteworthy, however, are the parallels between the components of Lev. 14’s ritual and the details of the crucifixion scene.

The ritual described in Lev. 14 involves seven components:
cedarwood, scarlet yarn, hyssop (dipped in blood), a pair of live birds (one of which is to be spared and the other slain), a source of running water (lit., מַיִם חַיִּים = ‘water of life’), and a clay vessel.
Curiously, each of these components has a counterpart in John’s crucifixion scene.

We have a wooden cross (apparently made from cedarwood), a purple robe, a sponge drenched in wine (which is passed to Jesus by means of a hyssop branch), and two live criminals,
one of whom will be spared and the other lost.

As for the vessel and the source of water, these components both find their counterpart in Jesus’ body = ‘vessel of clay’,

from which water flows forth in anticipation of the ‘water of life’
soon to be poured out on the post-resurrection world (in the form of the Holy Spirit).

These parallels are not coincidental. For John, Jesus’ death enacts a reparatory sacrifice—an act which will cleanse and purify a sin-stained and impure world.
John also brings out the reparatory nature of Jesus’ death in a further way (which we have just hinted at), namely in his description of the post-resurrection world.
As Leithart points out, John’s Gospel does not end with Jesus’ death because sacrifices do not end with the death of the animal. Rather, sacrifices are ‘offered up’ to God on an altar.
Their smoke ascends into the heavenly realms (where it arouses God’s pleasure) as a symbol of the worshipper’s acceptance in God’s presence and, if relevant, restoration to fellowship (Heb. 6.19–20).

Precisely the same logic connects the text of ch. 19 to that of chs. 20–21.
In the (Sabbatical) silence between chs. 19 and 20, Jesus ascends into the heavenly realms36 where he presents his people (blameless) before the throne of God (cp. Heb. 9–10) and hence restores them to fellowship both with him and with their heavenly Father.
The disciples’ restoration is then reflected in all sorts of discontinuities between the events of chs. 19 and 20.

Consider, by way of illustration, the state of play at the conclusion of ch. 19.

The disciples’ world lies in ruins.
They have abandoned the one they love and failed their leader, and there remains little for them to do but go their separate ways and return to their previous lives.

Had that been the conclusion of John’s gospel, John would not have been a Gospel but a tragedy.
Scripture’s final comment on the disciples’ lives would have a description of their faithlessness, sense of shame, and estrangement from their leader, while the final verdict on Jesus’ life would have been ‘guilty’.

But, in the silence between chs. 19 and 20, heaven has its say.
God does not approve of Pilate’s verdict and overturns it in the most dramatic way possible—by means of the resurrection—,

and, with the resurrection, everything changes.
🔹 On the 1st day of the subsequent week, Jesus reappears to Mary and reconnects/reunites her with the disciples.

🔹 Soon afterwards, the disciples—whom Jesus refers to as ‘his brothers’—reassemble.
🔹 Later that night, Jesus appears to the disciples in the upper room, as undeterred by a locked door as he was by a sealed tomb.
🔹 His initial words to them (‘Peace to you!’) are no mere formality, but words of restoration. They also happen to be words which Jesus repeats three times in response to—and in restoration of—Peter’s threefold denial of him.
🔹 And, finally, the disciples are encouraged to ‘break their fast’ (ἀριστήσατε!). With ch. 18’s charcoal fire happily reinvented, they eat and drink in the presence of their risen Saviour.

As such, Jesus’ death and resurrection make full reparation for the disciples’ sins.
Their fellowship with their Saviour is restored, their sorrow turned to ‘gladness’ (20.20), and their faithlessness replaced by ‘belief’ (20.8, 27–29).

The same reparation/reversal is reflected in John’s allusions to the OT.
With the trials of Psa. 22 behind him, Jesus moves on to the Psalm’s triumphant finale. ‘I will declare your name to my brethren’, the Psalmist declares, ‘in the midst of the assembly’, just as Jesus does in chs. 20–21.
He appears ‘in the midst’ of his re-assembled disciples, refers to them as ‘his brethren’, and later (per the words of Psa. 22.26) invites them to ‘eat and be satisfied’.
Meanwhile, the dark, accursed, and wineless world of Isa. 24 begins to sink beneath a flood of judgment as the world of Isa. 25 rises up in its place—a world where ‘death has been swallowed up’ in resurrection,
where ‘shame has been taken away’ by forgiveness, where ‘tears’ are no longer the order of the day (‘Why do you weep?’), and where Israel’s cry of ‘Behold, this is our God!’ finds an echo in Thomas’s remarkable confession, ‘My Lord and my God!’.
For John, then, Jesus’ sacrifice is reparatory and restoration. It has overcome the power of the law and, by that token, the sting of death.
== 3.2 Wrath ==

We thus come to our final issue, viz., the issue of divine wrath.

What role does divine wrath have to play in John’s passion?

Does Jesus’ sacrifice simply enable sins to be forgiven in some mysterious and unspecified way?
Or is its efficacy grounded in the satisfaction of divine wrath? In light of our considerations to date, the answer can only be ‘the latter’.

That God’s wrath lurks in the background of John’s passion is practically undeniable.
Its events are deliberately framed against the dark backdrop of the Passover—the night when YHWH unleashed his wrath against Egypt and only those houses in which a lamb had been slain were ‘passed over’—, and Jesus is twice referred to as ‘God’s lamb’ (1.29, 36).
For John, then, the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice—like that of the Passover lamb—is to avert God’s wrath.

John’s portrayal of Jesus as a Levitical sacrifice supports the same conclusion, since, in Scripture, the aversion of wrath is integral to the notion of atonement.
The presence of divine wrath in John’s passion is also implied by a number of curious parallels between Pilate’s and Balaam’s interaction with Israel.
In Num. 22–25, Balaam twice refuses to co-operate with Israel’s enemies, capitulates to their third request, unintentionally proclaims seven divine truths about Israel, and ultimately entices Israel to arouse God’s wrath against her,

which is later assuaged by a spear-thrust.
Meanwhile, in John’s passion, Pilate twice refuses to condemn Jesus, capitulates to Jesus’ enemies’ third request, unintentionally proclaims seven divine truths about Jesus, and ultimately helps Israel to arouse God’s wrath against her (via the crucifixion of the Messiah).
Furthermore, the successful crucifixion of Israel’s Messiah is confirmed by a spear-thrust, which, like Phinehas’s, secures judgment for some (cp. the blood) and mercy for others (cp. the fountain of water).

All well and good, one might say.
But does the ‘aversion’ of divine wrath necessarily entail its ‘satisfaction’? I believe so. (For details, see the pdf soon-to-be attached at the end of the thread.)
== Conclusion ==

PSA is not a theological construct which needs to be imported into John’s gospel.

On the contrary, it is hard-wired into the particularities of John’s narrative and lived out by its main characters,
just as prophets like Ezekiel and Hosea ‘live out’ their prophecies.

Jesus descends into the darkness of the Kidron valley, where he is betrayed by a close friend and the final act of his life begins to unfold.
He voluntarily hands himself over to Jerusalem’s authorities (in order to let his disciples escape).

He is led away, first to a priestly courtyard and later to a Roman-governed court.
He is tried by representatives of the Jewish and Gentile worlds—men guilty of the very accusations they make.

He is questioned, mistreated, and unjustly condemned, acknowledged as innocent by even his judge.

He is crowned with thorns;
he is hailed as ‘king of the Jews’—a title inscribed above his head in Jewish Aramaic, Latin, and Greek; and, at the time of the Passover, he is crucified.

As he hangs on the cross, Jesus becomes parched and given only the sour wine of God’s wrath by way of comfort.
And then, finally, Jesus dies, forsaken and alone, surrounded by cedarwood, scarlet yarn, wine-drenched hyssop, and two dead bodies.

Three days later, however, Jesus is raised from the dead by his heavenly Father.
He ascends into the heavenly realms, where he makes reparation for his disciples’ failures, and then returns to Jerusalem to speak words of peace to his despondent disciples and breathe life into a world ruled by the fear and fact of death.
In the flow and symbolism of these events, John portrays Jesus’ death as a sacrifice which is (among other things) voluntary, substitutionary, penal, and propitiatory.
It will not, therefore, do to say the Gospels are unconcerned with the question of how Jesus’ death enables sinners to be forgiven.

It is to read the Gospels with only one eye open and fail to perceive their depth.
John at least is intensely interested in the mechanics of the atonement, and his story—conceived in the mind of God, enacted in world history, and recorded in the pages of Scripture—is the greatest ever told.

== THE END ==

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