Who Crucified Jesus?

The question is sometimes raised as to who crucified Jesus? According to Chafer, “Closely related to the contrast between the divine and human sides of Christ’s death, is the question: Who put Christ to death? As already indicated, the Scriptures assign both a human and a divine responsibility for Christ’s death.”[1] According to the testimony of Scripture, Jesus’ death on the cross was the result of: 1) God the Father who sent Him, 2) Jesus who willingly went to the cross, 3), Satan who worked through others to help crucify Him, 4) unbelieving Jews, and 5) unbelieving Gentiles. The Bible verses that address the various persons involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are intermixed. That is, a passage might address God the Father and Jesus, or Jews and Gentiles, or Satan and Jews, etc. It is from these Scripture passages that the following categories as recognized.

God the Father Sent Christ to Die

Who crucified Jesus? The ultimate answer is God the Father. The Father was motivated by His love for us to save us; therefore, His plan of salvation involved sending His Son into the world to die in our place. The record of Scripture is, “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isa 53:10a), and “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16a), and “this Man [Jesus], was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a), and Peter, praying to the Father, said, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27-28), and “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all” (Rom 8:32). Chafer notes, “Human hands might inflict physical suffering and death as any victim would die, but only the hand of God could make Christ a sin offering, or could lay on Him the iniquity of others (2 Cor 5:21; Isa 53:6).”[2]

Jesus Willingly Went to the Cross

Jesus walking to His crucifixionThough the Father sent Jesus into the world to be an atoning sacrifice for sin, He did not force Him onto the cross. Jesus consented to come into the world and go to the cross and die for us. He voluntarily laid down His life. The writer of Hebrews states, “Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me’” (Heb 10:5). Jesus, in hypostatic union, speaking from His humanity, said, “Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of Me) to do Your will, O God” (Heb 10:7). Constable notes, “Jesus was not some dumb animal that offered its life without knowing what it was doing. He consciously, voluntarily, and deliberately offered His life in obedience to God’s will.”[3] Jesus’ voluntary death on the cross is found in several passages. Jesus said, “I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:15), and “no one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative” (John 10:18). Paul wrote, “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:2), and “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and “the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20), and “who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed” (Tit 2:14). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Christ “offered up Himself” (Heb 7:27; cf., Heb 9:14).

Satan Was Instrumental in Jesus’ Crucifixion

The very first prophesy related to the cross is found in Genesis, when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Gen 3:15). Concerning Genesis 3:15, Chafer notes, “it is implied that Satan did what he could in the exercise of his power—directly, or indirectly, through human agents—against the Savior.”[4] Satan’s seed refers to all those who reject God and Christ and are part of Satan’s kingdom of darkness.[5] Jesus said to unbelieving Jews, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), and all unbelievers are “the sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38). These were used by Satan to help in the crucifixion of Christ. On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, John records, “During supper, the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him” (John 13:2). During the meal, Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me” (John 13:21), and “After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly’” (John 13:27). Here we observe a coalescence of Satanic and human activity to betray Jesus to those who would crucify Him. In this regard, Satan was the motivating force behind Judas, his willing instrument, to bring about the death of Jesus.[6]

In the Garden of Gethsemane, the chief priests, officers of the temple, and Jewish elders came to arrest Jesus (Luke 22:52a), and He said to them, “While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on Me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours” (Luke 22:53). Those who came physically to “lay hands” on Jesus were the Jewish authorities who conspired to kill Him. God, in His sovereignty, permitted this to happen, because it served His greater purposes to bring about salvation through the cross. But even though it was their hour to act, these men were not acting alone, as Luke’s reference to “the power of darkness” demonstrates that Satan was behind them, driving them on as his agents of lies and destruction. Later, Luke would use the term darkness as a symbol of the sphere of Satan’s authority (Acts 26:18), as would Paul (Col 1:13).

Unbelieving Jews Crucified Jesus

Though it was the Romans who actually placed Jesus on the cross and drove the nails, it was, according to Scripture, unbelieving Jews who conspired and lied about Jesus to have Him crucified (Matt 26:3-4; John 11:53). At the time of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the Jews who were present all shouted, “Crucify Him” (Matt 27:22). God permitted Jesus’ crucifixion, both by the Jews and Romans, because it served His greater purpose. Luke recorded Peter, who said, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:22-23). Clearly this address was to the “Men of Israel,” who rejected Jesus and “nailed [Him] to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (Acts 2:23; cf. Acts 4:10; 5:30; 10:39). In Acts 4:27, Luke recorded that there were “gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus…the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27), to crucify Him. Paul wrote about “the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets” (1 Th 2:14b-15a).

Unbelieving Gentiles Crucified Jesus

Jesus CrucifiedThough many unbelieving Jews were directly responsible for collaborating in the crucifixion of Jesus, it was Gentiles who actually did the work of placing Him on the cross. That’s what Jesus foretold His disciples, saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up” (Matt 20:18-19). It was said of the Roman soldiers, “After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him” (Matt 27:31). Luke records in Acts, “truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel” (Acts 4:27).

As Christians, we must not see Christ dying at a distant time or place. We should see our own hands driving the nails that put Him there and then lifting the cross. The crucifixion was not only for us, but by us. It was our sin that necessitated His death and judgment. We must see Jesus bearing all our sin and paying the penalty of the Father’s wrath that rightfully belongs to us. In May 2006, I wrote the following poem as I thought about the role I played in placing Jesus on the cross.

Christ to the Cross

I and the Father led Christ to the cross,
Together we placed Him there;
I pushed Him forward, no care for the cost,
His Father’s wrath to bear.
Christ in the middle not wanting to die,
Knelt in the garden and prayed;
Great tears of blood the Savior did cry,
Yet His Father He humbly obeyed.

So He carried His cross down a dusty trail,
No words on His lips were found;
No cry was uttered as I drove the nails,
His arms to the cross were bound.
I lifted my Savior with arms spread wide,
He hung between heaven and earth;
I raised my spear and pierced His side,
What flowed was of infinite worth.

Like a Lamb to the altar Christ did go,
A sacrifice without blemish or spot;
A knife was raised, and life did flow,
In a basin the blood was caught.
Past the incense table and the dark black veil,
To that holy of holy places;
The blood of Christ was made to avail,
And all my sins it erases.

Now this Lamb on a cross was a demonstration
Of the Father’s love for me;
For the Savior’s death brought satisfaction,
Redeemed, and set me free.
Now I come to the Savior by faith alone,
Not trusting in works at all;
Jesus my substitute for sin did atone,
Salvation in answer to His call.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 49.

[2] Ibid., 51.

[3] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003), Heb 10:5.

[4] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3, 49.

[5] The seed of Satan ultimately relates to the coming Antichrist, who will, during the time of the Tribulation, seek to destroy Israel and prevent the coming of Jesus to rule over the earth. See Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s comments on Genesis 3:15 in his book, The Book of Genesis, Ariel’s Bible Commentary.

[6] On a separate occasion, after Jesus was born, Satan wanted to kill the baby Jesus. The apostle John—operating from divine viewpoint—records that Satan, “stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child” (Rev 12:4). But Satan’s attack was not direct; rather, King Herod was his tool to accomplish the nefarious deed. Matthew records the account in his Gospel (Matt 2:1-23). Herod was the human agent who wanted to kill Jesus, but Satan was the motivating force behind the attack.

Jesus’ Return for His Saints

Jesus Coming for His SaintsThe eschatological subject of the Rapture of the church can be related the study of Soteriology because it is regarded as a form of deliverance. When Messiah returns at the end of the church age, He will deliver His church from an evil world and a coming judgment that will last for seven years (Read Revelation chapters 6-18). A distinction is here drawn between Jesus coming for His saints at the Rapture, and Jesus coming with His saints at His Second Coming (Dan 7:13-14; Matt 19:28; 25:31; Rev 19:11-21). Jesus is now in heaven preparing a place for believers to be with Him there (John 14:1-3). Paul revealed Jesus will return for His church and that all Christians will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air (1 Th 4:13-18).

The doctrine of the Rapture was first presented by the Lord Jesus when He provided new information to His apostles on the night before His crucifixion. After speaking of His soon departure (John 13:33), Jesus comforted them, saying, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). The place where Jesus was going was heaven. The purpose of His going was to prepare a place for them. And, at some unspecified time, Jesus promised He would come again to receive them to Himself, that they may be with Him.

Paul described this as a time when “we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.  For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:51-53). And, when writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul  explained, “the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Th 4:16b-17). According to BDAG, the meaning of caught up (ἁρπάζω) is “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away.”[1] John Walvoord states, “The important point is that the verse says Christ will come for believers and take them from the earth to heaven, where they will be in His presence till they return with Him to the earth to reign. The Rapture will mean that all believers ‘will be with the Lord forever,’ enjoying Him and His presence for all eternity.”[2]

As Christians, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit 2:13). This Rapture is immanent, meaning it may occur at any time and without prior notice. All Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, will go with Him to heaven, and be saved from the wrath to be poured out during the seven-year Tribulation. Our future is not one of judgment; rather, we are assured we will be saved from God’s future wrath, both in time and eternity (Rom 5:9; 1 Thess 1:10; 5:9; Rev 3:10).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 134.

[2] John Walvoord, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 1265.

Jesus’ Ascension and Session

Jesus Ascending into HeavenAfter Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to many on several occasions. His final appearance was to His apostles. Luke wrote, “And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:50-51). And in Acts we’re told, “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). It’s important to note that Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, and that He will return the same way. Jesus’ ascension into heaven was the beginning of His session at the right hand of God. Concerning Jesus’s session, R. B. Thieme Jr. notes, “At His session, the humanity of Christ was ‘crowned with glory and honor’ and exalted to a position far higher than the angels (Heb 2:9). The Father put all powers and authorities in subjection to His Son and confirmed the ultimate subjugation of all who oppose Him.”[1] Jesus is, right now, “at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet 3:22; cf., Eph 1:20), and He was “crowned with glory and honor” (Heb 2:9), and holds the title of “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). According to Werner Foerster, “Session at the right hand of God means joint rule. It thus implies divine dignity, as does the very fact of sitting in God’s presence.”[2] And Ryrie notes, “By His resurrection and ascension our Lord was positioned in the place of honor at the right hand of the Father to be Head over the church, His body (Eph 1:20–23).”[3] Walvoord notes:

In the ascension of the incarnate Christ to heaven, not only was the divine nature restored to its previous place of infinite glory, but the human nature was also exalted. It is now as the God-Man that He is at the right hand of God the Father. This demonstrates that infinite glory and humanity are compatible as illustrated in the person of Christ and assures the saint that though he is a sinner saved by grace he may anticipate the glory of God in eternity.[4]

Ryrie states, “The Ascension marked the end of the period of Christ’s humiliation and His entrance into the state of exaltation…The Ascension having taken place, Christ then was ready to begin other ministries in behalf of His own and of the world.”[5] Lewis Chafer notes seven aspects of Jesus’ current ministry in heaven.

Seven aspects of His present ministry are to be recognized, namely: (1) exercise of universal authority. He said of Himself, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt 28:18); (2) Headship over all things to the Church (Eph 1:22–23); (3) bestowment and direction of the exercise of gifts (Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:4–31; Eph 4:7–11); (4) intercession, in which ministry Christ contemplates the weakness and immaturity of His own who are in the world (Psa 23:1; Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25); (5) advocacy, by which ministry He appears in defense of His own before the Father’s throne when they sin (Rom 8:34; Heb 9:24; 1 John 2:1); (6) building of the place He has gone to prepare (John 14:1-3); and (7) “expecting” or waiting until the moment when by the Father’s decree the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of the Messiah—not by human agencies but by the resistless, crushing power of the returning King (Heb 10:13).[6]

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Robert B. Thieme, Jr. “Session of Jesus Christ”, Thieme’s Bible Doctrine Dictionary, (Houston, TX., R. B. Thieme, Jr., Bible Ministries, 2022), 238.

[2] Werner Foerster and Gottfried Quell, “Κύριος, Κυρία, Κυριακός, Κυριότης, Κυριεύω, Κατακυριεύω,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 1089.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 313.

[4] John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Galaxie Software, 2008), 121–122.

[5] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 312.

[6] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 82.

Defining Salvation in the Bible

Soteriology is the study of salvation. The word soteriology is derived from the Greek words soter (σωτήρ), which means savior, and logos (λόγος), which means a word about, or the study of something. Soteriology is the sphere of systematic theology that speaks to the nature, means, scope, and purpose of salvation. It is an important theme that runs throughout Scripture and reveals the God who saves.

Bridge_to_SalvationAs Christians, when we think of salvation, it most often pertains to our spiritual deliverance from the lake of fire, which is the place of eternal suffering for those who reject Christ as Savior. John tells us, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15). Spiritual salvation is the most important kind of salvation mentioned in the Bible, for it matters little if one is rescued a thousand times from physical danger, but ultimately fails to receive deliverance from the danger of hell. God loves everyone and is “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). And He has made a way for lost sinners to be saved from hell and brought to heaven, and this through His Son, Jesus, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

God’s love for lost humanity is what motivated Him to act. Scripture reveals, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And, “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). And, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

God offers salvation because we are lost in sin and helpless to save ourselves. If we could save ourselves, then the death of Christ would have been unnecessary. But we cannot save ourselves, as our sin renders us helpless before God. A weak understanding of God’s work in salvation will produce a weak gospel, one that tends to emphasize human good and man’s ability to save himself, or to participate in that salvation. When we understand the total depravity of mankind, and that we are totally lost and unable to save ourselves, only then does the work of God through Christ come into its full glory, and love and grace become so pronounced, that lost sinners realize their utterly helpless condition, and turn to Christ alone for that salvation which cannot be secured by any other means. What follows is a look at the meaning of salvation in the Old and New Testament.

Definition of Salvation in the Old Testament

The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is yasha (יָשַׁע – sometimes as יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[1] God is said to deliver His people from military attacks (2 Sam 22:3-4; 1 Ch 16:35; Psa 3:6-8), fear (Psa 34:4), troubles (Psa 34:17), or physical death (Psa 56:13).[2] Earl Radmacher notes, “Often the words save and salvation refer to physical not spiritual deliverance. This is especially true in the Old Testament. People were ‘saved’ (rescued or delivered) from enemies on the battlefield (Deut 20:4), from the lion’s mouth (Dan 6:20), and from the wicked (Psa 59:2).”[3] According to Charles Ryrie:

The most important Hebrew root word related to salvation in the Old Testament is yasha. Originally it meant to be roomy or broad in contrast to narrowness or oppression. Thus it signifies freedom from what binds or restricts, and it came to mean deliverance, liberation, or giving width and breadth to something. Sometimes this deliverance came through the agency of man (e.g., through judges, Judg 2:18; 6:14; 8:22; or kings, 1 Sam 23:2), and sometimes through the agency of Yahweh (Pss 20:6; 34:6; Isa 61:10; Ezek 37:23). Sometimes salvation is individual (Psa 86:1–2) and sometimes corporate, that is, of the nation (Isa 12:2, though all the world will share in it, Isa 45:22; 49:6).[4]

Yahweh is repeatedly referred to as the “the God of my salvation” (Psa 18:46; cf., Psa 25:5; 27:9; 51:14; 88:1; Isa 12:2; 17:10; Mic 7:7; Hab 3:18), and Jonah said, “Salvation is from the LORD” (Jon 2:9). In helpless situations, only God could save His people (Isa 43:11; cf., Isa 45:5-7, 22), and He saved them primarily for His own glory and reputation, as the psalmist states, “He saved them for the sake of His name, that He might make His power known” (Psa 106:8).

When delivering His people from a military threat, there were times when God called His people to do nothing, but watch Him fight their battles (2 Ch 20:17; Hos 1:7). When Israel left Egypt and Pharaoh’s army pursued them, Moses told the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation [yeshuah] of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Ex 14:13-14). Here, the Lord fought alone, killing the Egyptian soldiers who were pursuing His people for the purpose of killing them (see Ex 14:22-31). However, there were times when God required His people to take up arms and engage their enemy, and in those moments He would fight with them, ensuring their victory. For example, when Israel was to enter the land of Canaan, Moses told the people, “the LORD your God is the one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save [yasha] you” (Deut 20:4). As Israel’s army fought the wicked Canaanites, God would be with them to secure their victory. And David, when standing against Goliath, said, “the battle is the LORD’S and He will give you into our hands” (1 Sam 17:47), and then he picked up his sling and a stone and struck his enemy with a mortal blow (1 Sam 17:48-49). God brought salvation through David, His servant. Liefeld states, “Although military leaders and others bring salvation in specific circumstances, ultimately it is God alone who is the true Savior. Israel had to learn not to trust human wisdom or military strength but to recognize God as the only source of deliverance.”[5] Solomon states the matter well, saying, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory belongs to the LORD” (Prov 21:31). Today, we might say, the soldier is to train well and keep his weapons clean, ready for action, but always realize it is ultimately God who gives the victory.

There was also a spiritual and eternal salvation for individuals who placed their faith in God. For example, in Genesis 15:6, we’re informed that Abram “believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Henry Morris states, “Here is the great principle of true salvation, set forth for the first time in the Bible. Not by works do men attain or manifest righteousness, but by faith. Because they believe in the Word of God, He credits them with perfect righteousness and therefore enables sinful men to be made fit for the fellowship of a holy God.”[6] And Ryrie adds, “Faith was the necessary condition for salvation in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6). The Hebrew prefix beth indicates that Abraham confidently rested his faith on God (cf. Ex 14:31; Jon 3:5).”[7]

Definition of Salvation in the New Testament

The concept of salvation in the NT derives from three words. First is the verb sozo (σῴζω), which refers to the act of physical deliverance in some biblical passages (Matt 8:25; 14:30; Mark 13:20; Luke 6:9; John 11:12; Acts 27:20, 31), and spiritual deliverance in others (Luke 7:50; 19:10; John 12:47; 1 Cor 1:21; Tit 3:5). As to our spiritual deliverance, we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately the presence of sin (Phil 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2, 5). Second is the noun soter (σωτήρ), which means Savior, and refers to the agent of salvation, the one who rescues or delivers another from harm or danger (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20). Third is the noun soteria (σωτηρία), which refers to the provision of salvation, rescue, or deliverance brought by another (Luke 1:69; 19:9; John 4:22; Acts 7:25; 13:26, 47; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 1:6; 6:2; Eph 1:13; Phil 1:28; 2:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2 Pet 3:15).

The Greek words in the NT communicate the basic meaning of yasha in the Hebrew OT. Radmacher notes, “In the New Testament the verb sōzō (“to save”) and the nouns sōtēr (“Savior”) and sōtēria (“salvation”) parallel the Hebrew word and its derivatives. Thus the Old Testament concept of deliverance is carried over to the New Testament.”[8] Ryrie agrees, saying:

In both the Septuagint and the New Testament the Greek verb sōzō and its cognates sōtēr and sōtēria usually translate yasha˒ and its respective nouns. However, a number of times the sōzō group translates shalom, peace or wholeness, and its cognates. Thus salvation can mean cure, recovery, remedy, rescue, redemption, or welfare. This can be related to preservation from danger, disease, or death (Matt 9:22; Acts 27:20, 31, 34; Heb 5:7).[9]

Earl Radmacher adds:

A number of times, however, sōtēria translates síālôm (“peace” or “wholeness”), which broadens the idea of rescue or deliverance to include recovery, safety, and preservation. There is a progression in these concepts: (a) rescue from imminent and life-threatening danger to (b) a place of safety and security and (c) a position of wholeness and soundness. The narrowness and restriction created by danger is replaced by the “breadth” of liberation in salvation. Visualize a person on the Titanic facing the imminent expectation of drowning and death, but then being placed in a lifeboat. That is rescue. Then picture the person now in the lifeboat removed from danger and death. That is safety. Now picture an ocean liner coming alongside the lifeboat and hoisting it and its passengers aboard ship. Now they enjoy security and soundness of mind. All three ideas are included in the biblical concept of salvation.[10]

The majority of usages of salvation in the NT refer to physical healing or deliverance from what injures, restricts, or threatens harm. For example, when Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee, He healed ten men of leprosy (Luke 17:11-14), and when one of them returned to thank Him (Luke 17:15-16), He told the man, “your faith has made you well [sozo]” (Luke 17:19). In this context, the Greek verb sozo refers to physical deliverance from an infirmity. On another occasion, when Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho, a blind man called out for Jesus to have mercy on him (Luke 18:35-41), and Jesus healed the man, saying, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well [sozo]” (Luke 18:42). Again, this refers to physical healing. An example of deliverance from physical danger is observed when Jesus came to His disciples when they were on a stormy sea (Matt 14:22-27). When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he called out to the Lord and asked to come to Him (Matt 14:28-29). However, as Peter was walking on the water, He took his eyes off Jesus and began looking at the stormy wind, and “he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me! [sozo]’” (Matt 14:30). Peter was not asking for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life; rather, he was asking Jesus to save him from physical harm as he sinking into the sea. Earl Radmacher states:

When the New Testament uses save and salvation to refer to physical deliverance, those instances are more individual than national. Also the New Testament occurrences suggest not only rescue but also remedy and recovery. A graphic example of rescue from imminent death is God’s sparing Paul’s life in the shipwreck on his way to Rome (Acts 27:20, 31, 34). This case is of special interest in that God promised deliverance in advance (Acts 27:23–24), and Paul confidently moved ahead on those promises (Acts 27:25, 34). In a physical sense salvation refers to being taken from danger to safety (Phil 1:19), from disease to health (Jam 5:15), and from death to life (Jam 5:20).[11]

Often, as Christians, we think of salvation in the spiritual sense, in which we are delivered from our sins and made right with God because of the finished work of Christ on the cross. As believers, we have been “reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Rom 5:10). We have been made spiritually alive, and “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). We should realize our salvation appears in three tenses. Lewis Sperry Chafer states:

In its broadest significance, the doctrine of salvation includes every divine undertaking for the believer from his deliverance out of the lost estate to his final presentation in glory conformed to the image of Christ. Since the divine objective is thus all-inclusive, the theme is divided naturally into three tenses: (a) The Christian was saved when he believed (Luke 7:50; Acts 16:30–31; 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15; Eph 2:8; 2 Tim 1:9). This past-tense aspect of it is the essential and unchanging fact of salvation. At the moment of believing, the saved one is completely delivered from his lost estate, cleansed, forgiven, justified, born of God, clothed in the merit of Christ, freed from all condemnation, and safe for evermore. (b) The believer is being saved from the dominion of sin (Rom 6:1–14; 8:2; 2 Cor 3:18; Gal 2:20; 4:19; Phil 1:19; 2:12; 2 Th 2:13). In this second tense of salvation the believer is being divinely preserved and sanctified. (c) The believer is yet to be saved from the presence of sin when presented faultless in glory (Rom 13:11; 1 Th 5:8; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:3–5; 1 John 3:1–3). To this may be added other passages which, each in turn, present all three tenses or aspects of salvation—1 Cor 1:30; Phil 1:6; Eph 5:25–27; 1 Th 1:9–10; Tit 2:11–13.[12]

Our spiritual salvation is entirely the work of God through Christ (John 3:16), who took our sin upon Himself on the cross and paid the penalty for it, having been judged in our place (1 Cor 15:3-4). Peter tells us, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). And this salvation is found exclusively in Christ, for “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). One needs only Christ to be saved. God offers salvation to sinful humanity as a gift, given freely and unconditionally to all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, believing He died for our sins, was buried, and raised again on the third day (1 Cor 15:3-4). Faith in Christ is the only condition for spiritual salvation.


Soteriology, the study of salvation, delves into the complex nature, means, scope, and purpose of God’s deliverance. Whether examining God’s deliverance in the Old Testament or the New Testament, this study reveals a salvation that encompasses both physical rescue from harm and spiritual deliverance from sin and eternal suffering. Ultimately, soteriology paints a vivid picture of God’s love and grace, showcasing the inexhaustible depth of His saving plan. At the heart of soteriology is the cross of Christ. The cross is God’s righteous solution to the problem of sin, as well as His greatest display of love toward sinners. At the cross, God judged our sin as His righteousness required, and pardons the sinner as His love desires. To understand the cross of Christ is to understand the heart of God toward a fallen world He wants to save.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 447.

[2] For other Hebrew words, see W. L. Liefeld, “Salvation,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, vol. 4, (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), p. 289.

[3] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation”, Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 806.

[4] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 321.

[5] W. L. Liefeld, “Salvation,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, vol. 4 (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 289.

[6] Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1976), 325.

[7] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 321.

[8] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation” Understanding Christian Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 805.

[9] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 321–322.

[10] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation”, Understanding Christian Theology, 805–806.

[11] Earl Radmacher, eds. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, “Salvation”, Understanding Christian Theology, 806.

[12] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 6.

[13] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology, 321–322.

Life, Death, and Eternity

Living GodGod has life in Himself and creates life. Jeremiah said, “the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jer 10:10). Jesus declared, “the Father has life in Himself” (John 5:26). And the apostle Paul stated, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Act 17:28). This teaching, that God has life in Himself and is self-existent, is called the doctrine of aseity. God also exists eternally and depends on nothing outside of Himself. Everitt Harrison says that life is “the most basic reality common to God and mankind, native to God and imparted by Him to His creatures, first by creation, then by redemption.”[1] Norman Geisler states, “Theologically, to speak of God as life is to say two basic things: God is alive, and He is the source of all other life. He has life intrinsically; He is Life, while all other things have life as a gift from Him.”[2] Concerning Adam, the first created person, Moses wrote, “the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). The word life translates the Hebrew חַיִּים chayyim, and living being translates the Hebrew נֶפֶשׁ nephesh, which can also be translated as soul. The most common Greek terms for life are βίος bios, ψυχή psuche, and ζωή zoe. Harrison writes:

Greek terms for life are principally bíos, psychḗ, and zōḗ. Of these, bíos is limited to the natural order…[and] is used of life span (Prov 31:12, LXX)…Psychḗ denotes self-conscious physical existence, corresponding to Hebrew nep̱eš (Acts 20:10). Zōḗ can mean lifetime (Luke 16:25). It also indicates life as the native possession of God (John 5:26) and as His gift to mankind whereby people are able to feel, think, and act (Acts 17:25).[3]

According to the Bible, God created angelic life (Psa 148:2, 5; cf. Col 1:16), plant life (Gen 1:11-12), animal life (Gen 1:20-22; 24-25), and human life (Gen 1:26-27; 2:7). People reproduce biological life, but God continues to impart soul life (Psa 100:3; Eccl 12:7; Zec 12:1), and this occurs at conception (Psa 139:13; Isa 44:2, 24). Furthermore, God has decreed the time and place of our birth (Acts 17:26), as well as the length of our days (Psa 139:16). He knows each of us personally (Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15), and is intimately familiar with us (Psa 56:8; 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). He is always present (Psa 139:7-10), is aware of our needs (Matt 6:8; 31-34), and asks us to trust Him as we journey through life (Pro 3:5-6; Heb 10:38; 11:6).

God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). And the Lord is caring concerning the death of His people, as the psalmist wrote, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psa 116:15).

What we do in life matters to God and others. Every moment of every day is our opportunity to walk with God who gives meaning and purpose to life. And such a life should be marked by truth, prayer, humility, love, kindness, gentleness, goodness, selflessness, and those golden qualities that flow through the heart of one who knows the Lord and represents Him to a fallen world. Furthermore, those who love God are naturally concerned with touching the lives of others, especially as they approach the end of life. As Moses was nearing death (Deut 4:22-23; 31:14; 32:48-50), he gave a farewell address to the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy was his farewell message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Moses left them what was important, what would guide and sustain and bring them blessing, if they would accept it (Deut 11:26-28). He left them the Word of God. David, too, thought this way; for as “his time to die drew near” (1 Ki 2:1), he gave a charge to his son, Solomon, saying, “I am going the way of all the earth. Be strong, therefore, and show yourself a man. Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies, according to what is written in the Law of Moses, that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Ki 2:2-3).

Jesus Washing FeetOur Lord Jesus, on the night before His death, spent His final hours offering divine instruction to His disciples (John 13:1—16:33). Jesus’ message was motivated by love, as John tells us, “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus opened His instruction with a foot-washing-lesson on humility and serving each other (John 13:3-17). Here, the King of kings and Lord of lords became the Servant of servants when He laid aside His garments and washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus’ display of humility was followed by a command to love, saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). He then comforted His friends, directing them to live by faith, and to look forward to His promise of heaven. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Jesus went on to offer additional instruction on how to know the Father, to love, pray, what to expect in the future, and how to live godly in a fallen world (John 14:4—16:33). He then prayed for them (John 17:1-26). Afterwards, Jesus went to the cross and died for them. He died for their sins, that they might have forgiveness and eternal life. What a loving Savior we serve!

The History and Meaning of Death

Death means separation. The most common words for death in the Hebrew OT are מוּת muth and מָוֶת maveth. McChesney writes, “The general teaching of the Scriptures is that man is not only a physical but also a spiritual being; accordingly, death is not the end of human existence, but a change of place or conditions in which conscious existence continues.”[4] The most common words for death in the Greek NT are νεκρός nekros and θάνατος thanatos. The Greek word νεκρός nekros refers “to being in a state of loss of life, dead.”[5] It is used of a dead body (Jam 2:26), as well as the spiritual state of the unsaved (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13). The Greek word θάνατος thanatos basically denotes “the termination of physical life.”[6] Mounce provides a broader explanation of θάνατος thanatos, saying:

It is used in the NT to describe physical death (the separation of the soul from the body) and spiritual death (the separation of a human being from God), though these two concepts can be closely linked in Scripture. The term never indicates nonexistence, and the NT never regards thanatos as a natural process; rather, it is a consequence and punishment for sin (Rom 6:23). Sinners alone are subject to death, beginning with Adam (Rom 5:12, 17), and it was as the bearer of our sin that Jesus died on the cross (1 Pet. 2:24). Since he was without sin, it was our death that he died (cf. Rom 8:1–2).[7]

Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God. Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7), and later, physical death (Gen 5:5). Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture, and these include: 1) spiritual death, which is separation from God in time (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:1-2; Col 2:13-14), 2) physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Tim 4:6), and 3) eternal death (aka the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual separation from God for all eternity (Rev 20:11-15).

In contrast to the three major kinds of death mentioned in Scripture, there are three major kinds of life, which are: 1) regenerate life, which is the new life God gives at the moment of salvation (John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:3, 23), 2) resurrection life, which is the new and perfect body we receive when the Lord calls us to heaven (John 11:25-26; 1 Cor 15:42-44), and 3) eternal life, which is perpetual life given at the moment of salvation and extends into heaven and eternity (John 3:16; 6:40; 10:28; Rom 6:23; 1 John 5:11-13).

God has granted that some would not experience death, and these include Enoch (Gen 5:21-24), Elijah (2 Ki 2:11), and Christians at the rapture (1 Cor 15:51-52; 1 Th 4:13-18). However, there have been others who died and were resuscitated, only to die a second time. These include the son of the widow in Zarephath (1 Ki 17:17-24), the Shunamite’s son (2 Ki 4:32-34; 8:1), the son of the widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-15), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:40-42, 49-55), Lazarus (John 11:43-44; cf. John 12:10), various saints in Jerusalem (Matt 27:50-53), Tabitha (Acts 9:36-40), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-10). But for most, there is an appointed time to die (Eccl 3:2; 8:8; cf. Deut 31:14; 1 Ki 2:1), and afterwards, to meet God for judgment (Heb 9:27). For believers, this judgment is a time of reward (1 Cor 3:10-15; 2 Cor 5:10), but for unbelievers, it is a time of judgment as they face the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Though death is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional. God loves us and sent His Son into the world to provide eternal life for us (John 3:16-17; 10:28).

The Eternal State

What is our eternal future? Scripture reveals every person will spend eternity either in heaven with God (Dan 12:1-2; 1 Cor 15:51–53; 1 Th 4:14–17; Rev 20:4-6), or the Lake of Fire away from Him (Rev 20:11-15). Heaven is the place where God dwells, and Jesus promised we’ll be there with Him (John 14:1-3). Heaven—and the eternal state—is a place of worship (Rev 19:1-3), service (Rev 22:3), and free from tears, pain, and death (Rev 21:3-4). God loves us and desires to have a relationship with us in time and eternity (John 3:16-17; 10:28; 14:1-3). However, our sin separates us from God (Isa 59:2; John 8:24; Rom 5:12). But God, who is merciful (Eph 2:3-5; Tit 3:5), dealt with our sin once and for all when He sent Jesus as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice to die in our place and pay the penalty for our sins (Isa 53:1-12; Mark 10:45; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 10:10-14; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18). At the cross, God satisfied all His righteous demands toward our sin (1 John 2:2; 4:10). Those who believe in Jesus as their Savior receive forgiveness (Eph 1:7; Col 2:13-14), the gifts of eternal life and righteousness (John 3:16; 10:28; Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9), and will spend eternity in heaven (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:20-21). Those who reject Jesus as their Savior have no future hope and will spend eternity away from God in eternal punishment (John 3:18, 36; Rev 20:14-15). When we turn to Christ as our Savior, we have a bright eternal destiny assured for us in heaven (1 Pet 1:3-4).

I am the resurrection and the life - squareAll believers anticipate a future time of resurrection in which God will reunite the soul with the body. Job said, “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). The body we have is perishable, but our resurrection body is imperishable. Paul compared our body to a seed that is sown into the ground that God will one day bring to life. Paul wrote, “It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44). Of course, Jesus makes this possible, as He told Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). To trust in Christ as Savior guarantees us eternal life right now, and the promise of a new body that will live forever, free from sin and decay. By God’s goodness and grace, heaven is open, and the free gift of eternal life is given to those who trust completely in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Our salvation is made possible by Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. He paid our sin-debt and gives us eternal life at the moment we trust in Him.

All believers go straight to heaven when we die, and there we will live forever. God will let us in. He does not have a choice in the matter. The Lord has integrity, and He promised that whoever believes in Jesus as Savior will be forgiven all their sins (Eph 1:7) and have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:28). He made the provision for salvation, and He will honor His Word. In fact, God is bound to His Word, for “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb 6:18; cf. Tit 1:2). By faith, we trust Him when He promises to do something, and we know that faith pleases Him (Heb 10:38; 11:6).

When the Christian leaves this world for heaven, her last breath here is her first breath there, and what a breath that must be! Scripture reveals, “to be absent from the body” is “to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). Though it is a sad time for us, it is an improvement for the believer, as Scripture states, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). The advantage is that the believer gets to meet the Lord Jesus Christ, face to face, in heaven; and this joyous relationship is forever!

At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time and opportunity, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls. Please don’t delay. Trust Christ as Savior today and receive eternal life, believing the gospel that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And, like the thief on the cross who trusted in Jesus, you can be assured your soul will immediately go into the presence of God at death (Luke 23:43). Don’t wait another day. The Lord will forgive you all your sins and grant you eternal life. He promised, and He’ll keep His word. He has integrity and cannot do otherwise.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Everett F. Harrison, “Life,” ed. Geoffrey W Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 129.

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 254.

[3] E. F. Harrison, “Life”, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 129.

[4] E. McChesney, “Death,” ed. Merrill F. Unger and R.K. Harrison, The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988).

[5] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 667.

[6] Ibid., 442.

[7] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 160.