If we understand the cross and resurrection as the climactic events of the gospel narratives, what do they mean? In asking this question, I am not at all casting doubt on traditional satisfaction theories of the atonement, which are amply justified in both OT and NT. The atonement is "objective," that is, directed God-ward.
My question is, How do these events form to the conclusion to the specific story being told about Jesus in the gospels? Here are a couple of suggestions, both of which have important ecclesiological implications:
1) Jesus dies and rises as part of His combat with the Jewish leaders. His provocative action in the temple brought the conflict with Jewish leaders to a climax, by concentrating central attention on the issue of authority: Who has the authority to teach in the temple and direct the future of Israel. In rage at Jesus, the chief priests and scribes put Him to death, with the people joining in. But once Jesus is raised, and especially after Pentecost, it becomes evident that the Jewish leaders had crucified the Lord of glory. The leaders lose their divine legitimation, and the apostles are designated by the Spirit as the leaders of the true Israel. This only increases their rage at Jesus and His followers, and they strike out at the church, but this only further damages their own standing with the people. In this way (and in many others), Jesus' death and resurrection forms a new Israel and fulfills the promise of the prophets by setting a faithful Shepherd, and faithful undershepherds, over the people of Israel.
2) Jesus dies and rises again for His disciples. "Given for you" certainly means "given for all the people of God throughout the ages," but in the context of the gospel, it means also, specifically, given for the disciples. The Jewish leaders are bearing down on Jesus, and the disciples are cowed by the pressure (cf. Peter's denials, for instance; and Jesus' statement that Satan is trying to sift the disciples, separate and divide them). When the Jewish leaders strike, the disciples scatter, and Jesus is left alone to take their full wrath. He lets the disciples get away, and takes their place before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. He is put to death alone; his disciples are spectators. But the Father accepts His faithful sacrifice, and raises Him from the dead, which leads to the reconstitution of the 12 (the meals after the resurrection; the choosing of a 12th to replace Judas in Acts 1). With this proof that God approved Jesus, and especially with the outpouring of the Spirit, the 12 become the leaders and foundation stones for a renewed people of God. Thus, Jesus' death and resurrection forms the leadership of a new Israel.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Saturday, March 20, 2004 at 05:38 PM
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