|By his death did Jesus remove sin from the world?
I AM REVEALED
Mar 07 2011
Biblical passages which speak of Jesus having been made sin, and by his death having removed sin from the world, are
not often quoted. This is because the context in which they are found clearly conveys their meaning, or because their
support of universal atonement is only obtained by abstruse reasoning that simple Christians cannot grasp. In any case
we must examine them. Here are some of them:
Isaiah 53:10 declares that Jesus was made ‘an offering for sin [or guilt]’. Romans 6:10 states that ‘he died to sin’ – that
is, as a consequence of sin. Hebrews 9:26 affirms that Christ ‘appeared [once] to put away sin by the sacrifice of
himself’. In John 1:29, John the Baptist introduces Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’. In I
Peter 3:18, it is expressly stated that Christ ‘suffered once for sins.’ Finally, II Corinthians 5:21 concludes that ‘[God]
made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.’
On the basis of these passages the following doctrine in favour of universal atonement is derived:
Since Jesus was made sin, was caused to bear sin and to take it away, it is clear that he offered himself for the whole of
humanity. This is because sin is to be found in every single member of the human race. That is why the Bible states
that he took away ‘the sin of the world’. There is one sin only, the sin of the world, and that is what was laid upon Jesus.
That is how the theory of universal atonement is presented. Now I must state my reaction to it. I ask my reader to
correct me if I am in error.
What the texts do not say
First of all, these passages do not say that Jesus was made ‘the abstraction of sin’, as, for example, socinians maintain.
Sin is an act, the transgression of the law (I John 3:4), and not something which pertains to the sphere of ideas merely,
as, for example, concepts such as heroism or beauty would be. Nor do these texts say that Jesus was made to become
a sinner, something utterly impossible for someone whom the Bible calls ‘the Holy One’.
These passages, then, do not support the notion that the iniquities and transgressions of the whole of humanity were
placed upon Jesus, and that he abolished them or blotted them out. Nor do we find the teaching that Jesus became the
abstraction of sin. Such an idea would apply to the devil as much as to man, if not more so. It would lead directly to the
heretical notion that Satan would ultimately be saved.
This is an idea which is totally without foundation, for, as we have said, sin as an abstraction has no existence as far as
God’s law is concerned. How much less, then, is it to be seen in an offering made to satisfy his justice.
What the texts do say
Let us see what according to their contexts the various verses actually mean.
Our first text, Isaiah 53:10, states that Jesus laid down his life as a sacrifice for sin. As verse 8 declares, he would offer
this sacrifice ‘for the transgressions of [his] people’. He would then rise from the dead and rejoice in his posterity, who
are the reward of the travail and sufferings of his soul, which he endured on their behalf.
Romans 6:10 affirms that in and through his person, Jesus crucified the old man – that is, the sinful nature, of those for
whom the Saviour died. So, having died because of that sin, he is now risen and alive so that his redeemed people, who
are risen with him, might no longer serve sin. Indeed the Holy Spirit exercises an effective ministry in their hearts and
Our third text, Hebrews 9:26, informs us that through his sacrifice Jesus ‘[has] put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’.
Verse 28 makes it clear that he took away ‘the sins of many [people]’. These people are those who subsequently would
be purified from dead works by the blood of the great High Priest, and would ‘eagerly wait for him [to] appear a second
time, apart from sin, for salvation’, as we read in verses 14 and 28.
According to our fourth passage, John 1:29, it is by Jesus alone that sin is taken away, sin not just of the nation of Israel,
but of the whole world. He alone is the true Lamb of God, of which the Passover lamb was just a figure or type.
Our fifth text, I Peter 3:18, tells us that Jesus, ‘a righteous man, died for unrighteous ones’ (as the original puts it). It is
significant that it does not say that he died for ‘the unrighteous’. Nor does it say he died for sin, but for sins. The
apostle links this with Christians suffering for doing good, and tells them that if Christ also suffered for sins, it is all the
more necessary for them to suffer for doing good (verse 14).
The next verse we want to examine, II Corinthians 5:21, tells us that Jesus was made sin for us – that is, for those who in
him become the righteousness of God. That demonstrates that the sins (or the sin) of God’s people are imputed to
Jesus in the same way that God’s righteousness is imputed to his people. In neither case is imputation a mere
abstraction. On the contrary, both involve the giving and the receiving of a nature. For Jesus, it is a matter of his taking
the nature of the sinner whom he saves. As for the sinner, the Spirit clothes him in the nature of his Saviour.
The passages we have quoted give no support whatever to a universal atonement. The opposite indeed is true. They
all establish clearly that Jesus bore only the sin (or sins) of those who have thus been redeemed by him. As Scripture
says, they are those who have been purchased ‘out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ (Revelation 5:9).
THE CHURCH IS MINE, by César Malan, Copyright 2001, EVANGELICAL PRESS.
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