An Examination of the Legal Aspect of Jesus' Sacrifice in Support of Limited Atonement
- Sin is breaking the Law of God.
- 1 John 3:4, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness;
and sin is lawlessness.”
- Breaking God’s law is a legal problem.
- It is not only a
legal problem. Sin also blinds us spiritually, emotionally, mentally,
etc. But since we are going to be talking about being saved (justified –
a legal declaration of righteousness), we are focusing on the legal
- Matt. 6:12, ‘And forgive us our debts (opheilema), as we also have forgiven our debtors.” The parallel in Luke 11:4 says, “And forgive us our sins (hamartia)…”
- Laws have punishments – otherwise a law is not a law; it would be
- Sin, breaking God’s law results in death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23), separation from
God (Isaiah 59:2), and eternal judgment (Matt. 25:46).
- The sinner
needs to escape the righteous judgment of the Law. This can be done only through
the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
- Heb. 9:22, “And according to
the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and
without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
- Rom. 5:9,
“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be
saved from the wrath of God through Him.”
- 1 Pet. 2:23, “and He
Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin
and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we
might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
- Col. 1:21-22, “And
although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in
evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through
death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond
- The sacrifice of Christ on the cross was legal (John
19:30), substitutionary (Isaiah 53:4-6), is where our sins were imputed
to Christ (1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21), and it cancelled out the
certificate of debt (Col. 2:14).
- The sacrifice of Christ on the
cross was a legal sacrifice:
- John 19:30, “When Jesus therefore
had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His
head, and gave up His spirit.”
- The words “It is finished” in the
Greek is the single word “tetelestai”. “Papyri receipts for taxes have
been recovered with the word tetelestai written across them, meaning
“paid in full.”
- Therefore, Jesus was offering a legal payment
on the cross that satisfied the Law of God.
- On Matt. 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or
the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.”
- Lev. 17:11, “‘For the life of the flesh is in
the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar
to make atonement for your souls; for it is the
blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’”
- Deut. 17:1 “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord
your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any
defect, for that is a detestable thing to the Lord
- John 19:36, “For these things came to pass, that
the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him
shall be broken.’”
- Exodus 12:46, "It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it."
- Numbers 9:12, "They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it."
- Psalm 34:20, "He keeps all his bones. Not one of them is broken."
- The sacrifice of
Christ on the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice:
53:4-6, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5
But He was pierced through for our transgressions. He was crushed for
our iniquities. The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by
His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray.
Each of us has turned to his own way. But the Lord has caused the
iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
- The sacrifice of Christ on the
cross was where our sins were legal reckoned to Jesus’ account:
- Pet. 2:24, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that
we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you
- 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin
on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
- The sacrifice of Christ on the cross cancelled the certificate of
- Col. 2:14, “having canceled out the certificate of debt
consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has
taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
“having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees
- ESV, “canceling the record of debt that stood against
us with its legal demands…”
- KJV, “Blotting out the handwriting of
ordinances that was against us…”
- ASV, "having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us..."
- NIV, “having canceled the written
code, with its regulations, that was against us…”
- HCSB, "erased the certificate of debt, with its
- ISV, "having erased the charges that were brought against
- NCV, "He
canceled the debt, which listed all the rules we
failed to follow..."
- NLT, "He canceled the record of the charges against us..."
- RSV, "having canceled the bond which stood against us..."
- TNIV, "having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness..."
- YLT, "having
blotted out the handwriting in the ordinances that is
- Eph. 2:15, "by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the
Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He
might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace."
- When a legal
payment is made that satisfies the requirement of the Law (i.e., Jesus'
sacrifice), then the debt is cancelled (Col. 2:14). A cancelled debt
can no longer
be held against the debtor/sinner since it has been legally paid for.
- If the
debt has been paid and is also still held against the person, then that
is called double payment.
- Double Payment is immoral and illegal
because it requires two payments for the same debt – especially
regarding a debt that has been cancelled.
- It would also mean that
the legal satisfaction accomplished under the Law is not really
- Jesus made a legal payment required by the Law.
- The wages of sin is death
(Rom. 6:23), Jesus died (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
- Sin causes a separation
(Isaiah 59:2), Jesus was forsaken (Matt. 27:45).
- Sin is breaking the Law (1 John 3:4) which requires judgment (Exodus
20). Jesus took our place on the cross (Isaiah 53:4-6), bore our sins (1
Pet. 2:24), and fulfilled the requirements of the Law by dying (Rom.
6:23). In so doing, he cancelled out the certificate of debt (Col.
2:14). This would mean he justified them (Rom. 3:24). If he cancelled it
out for everyone who ever lived, then everyone’s debt has been paid and
canceled and they are justified and cannot go to hell. But, not all are
justified. Therefore, Jesus did not cancel the certificate of debt for
everyone because he only bore the sins of the elect and cancelled their
- Illustration of actuality of legal payment
- A man goes to his bank to pay his
mortgage. On the way there he gets into a car accident and ends up in a
hospital, in a coma, for one month. During that time, a philanthropist
goes to the man’s bank and pays his mortgage debt. By doing this, he
satisfies the legal requirement of the law, by paying the man’s debt.
The debt is cancelled. The man in the coma is unaware of the payment.
But, is the debt actually cancelled? Yes, it is. Upon awakening the man
goes to the bank to make his payment. He hands the teller his check.
After bringing up the man’s account, the teller informs him that his
debt has been fully paid. It has been cancelled. It no longer exists.
The man does not believe it and pushes the check towards the teller
saying he has a debt to pay. The teller says that there is no debt
against which to make a payment because it has been paid in full,” tetelestai” (John 19:30). Someone else bore his debt (1 Pet. 2:24; 2
Cor. 5:21) and by making the payment, cancelled it (Col. 2:14). There is
nothing the man can do. He cannot legally be held responsible for his
mortgage debt any longer since someone else has legally paid it for him.
Furthermore, if the bank were to accept the payment from the man it
would be both illegal and immoral to do so.
- Questions to ask.
- When the philanthropist paid the man’s debt, was it actually paid or
not? – Yes, the debt is actually paid.
- Was the debt actually paid
or not paid even though the man was unaware of the payment? – It was
actually paid even though he was not aware of it.
- Can the bank
legally and morally accept the payment to a debt that no longer exists
since it has been paid for and legally satisfied? – No, the bank cannot
take the payment since the debt has been paid and satisfied. It no
longer exists – otherwise it has not been paid for and it has not been
- Application to Christ’s atonement
- When Jesus paid
the debt of sinners, was it actually legally paid or not? – Yes the debt was
actually legally paid.
- When Jesus paid the debt of sinners, was the debt
actually paid or not paid even though people are unaware of the payment?
– It was actually paid even though people were not aware of it.
- Can God the Father legally and morally accept Christ's sin-debt payment
send people to hell -- even though it is legally paid and
cancelled by Jesus on the cross? – No, God cannot send people to hell
who have had their sins legally paid for and cancelled – otherwise the
sin debt has not been cancelled.
- The debt
payment has to be accepted in order to be effective.
- This is not
true. As is illustrated by the man in the coma, even though he was
unaware of it, the debt was legally satisfied. The satisfaction of a
legal debt is not dependent on whether or not the person was aware of it
or not or even accepts it or not. When a payment is legally made, then
it is effective whether or not the person is aware of it or accepts it.
- For this objection to be valid, it must be demonstrated that when a
legal payment is made against a debt, that the payment is not then
actually made and accomplished because the person is unaware of it. If
this cannot be demonstrated, then the objection is invalid.