In this week’s insight we will reverse the order of the daily topics. This method follows a series of steps in a definite order, reaching from the motivating love of God (Thursday’s lesson) to the end result which is reconciliation (Monday’s lesson). Redemption (Sunday’s lesson) will end the study with an illustration of the two phases of emancipation.
Thursday’s Lesson—The Display of God’s Love: There is special significance regarding the declaration of God’s love in the first three words of the first chapter in Patriarchs and Prophets and the last three words of the last chapter in The Great Controversy. The three words are “God is love.” This is the main theme in the conflict of the ages between Christ and Satan. By the end of the conflict, as stated in the last words of the book The Great Controversy, a chorus of voices coming from “all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” (GC 678).
The cross of Calvary is heaven’s eternal declaration of the unchanging, unlimited and unconditional love of God. Paul clearly presents the love of God as revealed in the death of Christ: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is while we were “without strength, ... ungodly, ... enemies” (Rom. 5:8, 6, 11). The center of attraction not only of earth but also of heaven is the cross where Christ crucified is revealed in the midst of the throne as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6).
By way of the cross we learn of the initiative and motivating love of God. “Look at the cross of Calvary. It is a standing pledge of the boundless love, the measureless mercy of the heavenly Father” (MS 154, 1897; 1SM 156). This love is foundational in the giving Christ as the expiratory sacrifice for our salvation.
Wednesday—Expiatory Sacrifice: The term expiatory is involved in Christ’s act of making atonement by His sacrificial death. An expiratory sacrifice means the point at which it ends. By His death on Calvary, Jesus lifted, legally, the condemnation and guilt incurred by the sin of Adam and the fallen race. Christ’s last emission of breath (“into your hands I commit my spirit”) was a testimony of His faith in God that one phase of the atonement was accomplished.
The death of Jesus provided the legal basis for salvation. In Romans three there is the most concentrated thought in Scripture dealing with God’s work of deliverance from the power and effects of sin. Let’s consider three metaphors of salvation as listed in that chapter. These three—propitiation, redemption and justification—come from the sanctuary, the market place, and the court of law.
Propitiation is the “focus on the means by which sins are forgiven having atoning power, bringing about reconciliation.” This figure of speech is also the focus “on the place where sins are forgiven by means of the blood from an atoning sacrifice placed there (the) place of forgiveness, place where God forgives sins, often translated mercy seat (HE 9.5). Friberg, T., Friberg, B., & Miller, N. F. (2000). Vol. 4: Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (emphasis original).
The mercy seat was a most important piece of furniture within the most holy place of the tabernacle and later in the temple. It was a gold cover placed on the ark of the covenant. It was there where typical corporate atonement was made for Israel on the Day of Judgment or Atonement. It was by means of the blood of the expiatory sacrifice that atonement was accomplished. Those two types came together in the sanctuary—the blood of the sacrifice and the mercy seat both symbolizing Christ. Jesus is both our Sacrifice and our Mercy Seat, our atoning cover. It took both symbols to illustrate the Christ’s work of atonement. This work consists of justification and cleansing. In Romans 3:25 the original word for reconciliation is used in relation to the means of the atoning justification while in Hebrews 9:5 the word is used as the place of atonement. These two verses take in the scope of atonement as the typical service illustrated.
Tuesday—Justification, Monday—Reconciliation: Justification is a legal term. In Romans 3:24 Paul presents God’s justification by grace as a gift to everyone. God’s justifying activity is universal in scope as presented there in relation to the “all” in the previous verse, that is, all those who “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is a legal justification and corporate in nature in these verses. Those being justified in verse 24 are the “all” who have sinned in verse 23.
In the plan of salvation there is one justification only, but with two phases. The first was God’s work in Christ on the cross whereby He legally lifted the deserved condemnation from the fallen race (Rom. 5:9,18). (Compare this with the thought that Christ is the “Savior of the world,” John 4:42; 1 John 4:14. However, this does not mean everyone will be saved unconditionally. The Savior of the world must be permitted to dwell within a person who then personally experiences salvation.) The second phase of justification is accomplished when the conditions of faith and repentance are exercised by individuals who hear the good news of the gospel along with the heart searching claims of the law (Rom. 5:1; 2:4; 10:16,17; Gal. 2:23,24).
Genuine faith and repentance always lead to obedience to all of God’s commandments (1 John 5:3; 2 John 6). True, the law cannot justify (Rom 8:2). It convicts of sin and points to Christ as our justifying righteousness. The law testifies to the righteousness of God (Rom 3:21). This righteousness, in Christ, comes to us from God by means of Christ’s faith—“the faith of Jesus” (Rom. 3:22). Through the human race’s Representative’s faith God’s righteousness comes to everyone, to the first “all” of Rom 3:23 as well as to the second “all.” (The manuscript used for the King James Version is correct here in designating two categories of people by the two uses of “all”). It is because God’s justifying righteousness reaches to everyone that “all” live. Without it no one could possibly exist. But there is much more. God does not desire His righteousness to stop by providing mere temporary protection and life. He wants everyone to be not merely protected by His justifying righteousness. So He places it within “all” who will believe. God’s righteousness is an objective righteousness that is to be experienced subjectively only by those who believe.
As with justification, there are two aspects of reconciliation. The first occurred in the death of Christ, the second involves receiving that reconciliation. The first part of the formula is “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself,” that is, “when we were enemies.” The second is accepting that reconciliation as Paul wrote, “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:19; Rom. 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:20).
Justification and reconciliation are the same. Both occurred when Christ died (Rom. 5:9, 10; 2 Cor. 5:19-21), but in our thinking, justification precedes reconciliation. The reason is: the legal condemnation, because of our guilt, had to be lifted before there could be reconciliation. The sin that separated God from man first had to be dealt with before reconciliation could take place. The fact that God “did not send His Son into the world” to condemn it (John 3:17), is revealed by Paul in his concluding words of Romans 5:18: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”
Sunday—Redemption: In conclusion, like justification and reconciliation, redemption has two aspects. First there is the legal act of redeeming or purchasing (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18, 19); the second is the response of believing the first aspect. Just as President Lincoln initially enacted the Emancipation Proclamation, thereby setting slaves free legally, the slave had to believe the good news of that legal determination and he had to act upon it in order to experience liberty personally.
—Gerald L. Finneman