The Doctrine of Revelation: The Storyline of Scripture (Part 17)

There are some subjects which can never be exhausted. No matter how much you discuss, analyze, and debate you can never unpack all there is to know about that subject. Perhaps you might come close to knowing it all about some subjects, but you will never master the subject of Christ’s death. It is so crucial to the storyline of Scripture that I am sure we will never know all the ways in which it interacts with the various elements of the storyline of Scripture. We can be sure, however, that at the heart of the story is Jesus death and His resurrection (which we will look at next week).

Finding a starting place is the hardest part when approaching a subject like this. It seems natural, then, to start with a discussion of why Jesus had to die in the first place and see how that theme is picked up throughout the storyline. We start with the Biblical reality that God is morally perfect and cannot tolerate sin (Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13). This poses a problem, however, since God desires to dwell with His people, but His perfection would consume sinners (Exodus 33:3). To address this problem God had to do something about Israel’s sin, He had to testify to His holiness and address their wickedness. Thus was born the sacrificial system, which allowed God, for a time, to overlook Israel’s sin (Romans 3:25) . There was a substitute who took the punishment they deserved in order that God could dwell near them and not kill them.  This sacrificial system was ultimately pointing forward to Jesus who took the place of humans to take the penalty for their sins. Romans 5 unpacks this clearly. Here Paul explains that Jesus died to remove the wrath of God from upon sinful humanity. Paul says it this way:

 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:6-9 ESV)

This is why, as we have seen, John the Baptist calls Jesus “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus is the sacrificial lamb, the perfect and spotless lamb who is slain (Revelation 5:6). But there is more to it than just Jesus fulfilling the sacrificial system. He also fulfills the role of the suffering servant who intercedes on behalf of the people of God.

Isaiah 53 is one of the most well-known chapters in the whole book, and perhaps in the whole of the Old Testament prophets. It records Isaiah’s revelation of a suffering servant who is “stricken by God” and whose wounds, somehow, are an intercession for the people. Isaiah writes:

 Surely he has borne our griefs   and carried our sorrows;  yet we esteemed him stricken,   smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions;   he was crushed for our iniquities;  upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,   and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray;   we have turned—every one—to his own way;  and the LORD has laid on him   the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)

Jesus is this servant; He is this sufferer. Matthew records Jesus praying that a certain “cup” would pass Him, and that he would not have to drink from it (Matthew 26:39). What is this cup? It is an allusion to an Old Testament concept of the cup of God’s wrath  (Isaiah 51:7, 22; Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19). Why does Jesus do this? Why does He endure the Father’s wrath? Because He is a servant to the Father’s will and one who loves God’s people. Jesus himself testifies to this when He says, as recorded in John, that He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:15). He even goes so far as to say, “no one takes it from me, I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18). Jesus is a servant!

The storyline of Scripture has been building to this great point all along. Man has been estranged from God and every attempt that they have made, every second chance (or 22nd chance) God has given them they have screwed up. Adam failed, Abraham failed, Israel failed, Moses failed, David and all the kings failed, and then comes Jesus. Jesus does not fail. What man could not do, restore his relationship with God, Jesus does. Jesus bears the Father’s wrath, takes the punishment and brings the story to its great climax. Jesus is the answer to the problem that has plagued men for centuries. Paul reminds us of Jesus’ work as part of the storyline of Scripture when he writes:  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3 ESV). This all happened in accordance with the Scriptures. It was part of God’s longterm plan (Acts 2:22-23).

There are some who want to downplay the significance of what Christ accomplished on the cross. They want to make it a small part of this larger story. They want to focus on other, indeed important, aspects of the plan of God. But I can see no other benefits of God’s plan without this piece at the center. This is the key, the climax of the storyline of Scripture and without it we have an incomplete story, and all the rest of it makes little sense.

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