The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Rigtheousness
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by Jerry Bridges, Bob Bevington
Description: Offers believers a greater understanding and appreciation for the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: July 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [419 KB]
Reading time: 268-375 min.
The Unique Qualifications of the Apostles
he word apostle means "representative," in the sense of one who is sent with the full authority of the sender. After Christ accomplished the great atonement on the cross, a radical transformation took place in the lives of the apostles. Prior to the resurrection, John and Peter shunned the idea of Christ's death whereas Paul looked on and applauded it (Acts 8:1). But once the eyes of these men were opened by Christ himself to the fact and meaning of the completed transaction and its saving effect, they were truly ready to live, suffer, and die for the message of the atonement, the gospel of Jesus Christ. But still, why should we listen to them?
We should listen because, made apostles by God, these men were uniquely qualified as divinely appointed messengers of the atonement in three ways: first, as eyewitnesses of the atoning events and personal instruction in the Scriptures given by the risen Lord; second, in their supernatural empowerment by the Holy Spirit; and third, in their unique and personal commissioning by the Lord himself. For these reasons, the testimony of the apostles is of supreme value and worthy of our careful time and attention.
The Apostles: Eyewitnesses
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us--that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
The apostles were eyewitnesses to Jesus alive, then dead, then alive again. As they followed Christ for three years on earth, they often heard his teaching on the atonement; it foreshadowed the sacrifice that was to come, but at the time they understood little of this message. After the resurrection of Christ, however, they saw prophesied atonement become fulfilled atonement; they saw promise become fact, anticipation become reality, and Old Testament give birth to New Testament. Where they had previously "regarded Christ according to the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16), after the resurrection they gained a revolutionary new understanding of who Christ is and the purpose of his atoning work, based on their direct experience with him.
The lips of the resurrected Christ imparted fresh oral instruction to the apostles, uniquely equipping them for their mission. Christ took pains to explain everything necessary for them to possess the most accurate knowledge of the atonement--especially by revealing how the Old Testament Scriptures described and pointed to himself and to his atoning work. This is clearly seen in this important passage at the end of the Gospel of Luke:
"These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24:44-)
Notice the extent of Jesus' exposition: "The Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms." Jesus supplied the apostles with the keys for understanding his atoning death from three major divisions of Old Testament Scripture. The Law of Moses calls to mind the animal sacrifices for sin and the institution of priests--both symbolic of Christ's atoning role as sacrifice and priest. The Prophets, from Isaiah through Malachi, contain hundreds of prophecies of the coming Messiah, which were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Psalms recall the phrases Christ uttered as the suffering Messiah. The direct interpretation of these passages by the risen Christ formed the basis and authority for the apostles' interpretation. It provided the foundation for all that the apostles subsequently taught and wrote.
With regard to the apostle Paul, even though Jesus did not personally instruct him prior to the cross as he had done with the other apostles, Paul nevertheless learned the gospel directly from the risen Christ. We can see this clearly in Galatians 1:12, where he states, "For I did not receive it [instruction] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
Furthermore, Paul's personal encounter with the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-) and his experience of being "caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:1-) constitute firsthand experiences that qualify him to be counted among the apostolic eyewitnesses.
The Apostles: Supernaturally Empowered by the Holy Spirit
Prior to his death, Jesus promised to send the great "remembrancer," the Holy Spirit, to give the apostles special empowerment to enable them to accurately recall all the Lord did and taught. This is evident in John 14:26, where Jesus said, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you." The Gospel of John quotes Jesus a few chapters later declaring, "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13a).
After his resurrection Jesus again assured the apostles that this promise of divine power would be fulfilled, saying "Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). The Holy Spirit, with his infinite power capable of flawlessly evoking the past from the cache of human memory, resuscitated all the words and deeds of Jesus necessary to display his person and explain his atoning work. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit exerted supernatural influence on the human authors of the Bible so that they composed and recorded God's message to mankind without error. He fixed the words in the apostles' minds, mouths, and pens with precision and clarity for our benefit (2 Pet. 1:21). Therefore, we are not listening to the words of mere men, but to the words of God. It would behoove us to listen.
Uniquely and Personally Commissioned by Christ
Not only were the apostles eyewitnesses to the resurrection and later supernaturally empowered by the Holy Spirit, but they also were personally sanctioned by Jesus, who had said, "Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me" (Matt. 10:40). Clearly, the importance and authority of the apostles' writings as canonized in New Testament Scripture cannot be overstated. All they declared and wrote is divine revelation and no less true than if it had been personally spoken by Christ himself. To disregard apostolic writing is unthinkable and unwise, since Jesus personally and emphatically commissioned them.
Following the completion of the redemptive work of Christ, the apostles, in their teaching, preaching, and writing, put the great atonement in its proper place as the central article of Christianity. They proclaimed the work of the atonement finished for all time, never to require repetition (Heb. 7:27). It was left to the apostles, under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit, to interpret, apply, and further develop Christ's teaching on all points, including the great doctrine of the atonement. Their role extended to defending the doctrine against the heresies that arose in many of the early churches, as well as those appearing right up to the present day.
Some have argued that in order to restore Christianity to its original simplicity, one should abide exclusively by the "red letter" words of Jesus. Others maintain that the apostles altered the truth of Christ's message. The church must be vigilant to mark and oppose such false teachings, because to disregard the apostles is, without a doubt, to disregard not only them, but also the one who chose, taught, commissioned, and sanctioned them. As Jesus said, "The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Luke 10:16).
Thus, direct experience with Jesus combined with the supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit and the apostles' personal commissioning by Christ provide a threefold assurance of a full conformity between the teaching of Christ and the God-breathed writings of the apostles. The writings of the apostles can therefore be trusted as infallible and inerrant witnesses to the truth of Christ's great atonement; they should be regarded as equal in reliability and importance to the teachings of Christ.