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.

The Maker of the Universe

Frederick William Pitt (1859-1943) was a pastor in London who was known for his doctrinal writings and poetry/hymns.  This thoughtful hymn, The Maker of the Universe, captures truth pertaining to the hypostatic union, that Christ is fully God and man.

The Maker of the Universe
As man for man was made a curse;
The claims of laws which He had made,
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.
The nails that pierced his hands were mined
In secret places He designed;
He made the forests whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head
By Him above the earth was spread;
The sun that hid from Him its face
By His decree was poised in space;
The spear that spilled His precious blood
Was tempered in the fires of God.
The grave in which His form was laid
Was hewn in rock His hands had made;
The throne on which He now appears
Was His from everlasting years;
But a new glory crowns His brow,
And every knee to Him shall bow.

F. W. Pitt (1859-1943)

Atonement for Sins

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement [Heb. כָּפַר kaphar] for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement [Heb. כָּפַר  kaphar].  (Lev. 17:11)

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  (Heb. 9:22)

       Sacrificial LambAtonement is a very important concept in the Old Testament.  The word atonement translates the Hebrew verb כָּפַר (kaphar) which means to “cover over, pacify, propitiate, [or] atone for sin.”[1]  The animal sacrificial system—which was part of the Mosaic Law—taught that sin must be atoned for.  The idea of substitution was clearly taught as the sinner laid his hands on the animal that died in his place (Lev. 4:15, 24; 16:21).  The innocent animal paid the price of death on behalf of the guilty sinner.  God established the Levitical animal sacrificial system as a way of teaching that human sin must be atoned for.  The atoning animal sacrifices were performed daily by the Jewish temple priests on behalf of Israelites who committed sins in ignorance (Lev. 4:1-4, 20, 26, 31).  More serious sins—those deliberately committed—were atoned for once a year on the Day of Atonement—Yom Kippur—by the High Priest who would enter the Holy of Holies in the temple and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed bull and goat on the mercy seat which was on the top of the Ark of the Covenant (Lev. 16:14-15).  There were two sacrifices on the Day of Atonement: a bull was sacrificed for the sins of the High Priest (Lev. 16:6, 11), and two goats for the sins of the nation (Lev. 16:7-10).  The sacrifice of the goats were “to make atonement [כָּפַר kaphar] for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year” (Lev. 16:34).  One goat shed its blood on the altar, and the other was sent away into the wilderness after the High Priest had laid his hands on it and confessed over it “all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins” (Lev. 16:21).  The innocent animals died in place of those who were guilty of sin.  

Atonement means making amends, blotting out the offense, and giving satisfaction for wrong done; thus reconciling to oneself the alienated other and restoring the disrupted relationship. Scripture depicts all human beings as needing to atone for their sins but lacking all power and resources for doing so. We have offended our holy Creator, whose nature it is to hate sin (Jer. 44:4; Hab. 1:13) and to punish it (Ps. 5:4-6; Rom. 1:18; 2:5-9). No acceptance by, or fellowship with, such a God can be expected unless atonement is made, and since there is sin in even our best actions, anything we do in hopes of making amends can only increase our guilt or worsen our situation. This makes it ruinous folly to seek to establish one’s own righteousness before God (Job 15:14-16; Rom. 10:2-3); it simply cannot be done.[2]

       The animal sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law taught that God is holy, man is sinful, and that God was willing to judge an innocent creature as a substitute in place of the sinner.  The animal that shed its blood gave up its life in place of the one who had offended God, and it was only through the shed blood that atonement was made.  A life for a life.  The whole animal sacrificial system under the Mosaic Law was highly symbolic, temporary, and pointed forward to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  The Levitical priests would regularly perform their temple sacrifices on behalf of the people to God, but being a symbolic system, the animal sacrifices could never “make perfect those who draw near” to Him, for the simple reason that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:1, 4).  For nearly fourteen centuries the temple priests kept “offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Heb. 10:11), until finally Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins for all time” and through that one offering “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” by it (Heb. 10:12, 14).  What the Mosaic Law could never accomplish through the sacrifice of symbols, Christ did once and for all time through His substitutionary death on the cross when he died in the place of sinners. 

       Jesus’ death on the cross was a satisfactory sacrifice to God which completely paid the price for our sin.  We owed a debt to God that we could never pay, and Jesus paid that debt in full when He died on the cross and bore the punishment that rightfully belonged to us.  In Romans 3:25 Paul used the Greek word ἱλαστήριον (hilasterion)—translated propitiation—to show that Jesus’ shed blood completely satisfied God’s righteous demands toward our sin, with the result that there is nothing more for the sinner to pay to God.  Jesus paid our sin-debt in full.  There’s nothing for us to pay.  The Apostle John tells us “He Himself is the propitiation [ἱλασμός hilasmos – the satisfactory sacrifice] for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2; cf. 4:10).  Jesus’ death on the cross forever satisfied God’s righteous demands toward the sins of everyone for all time!  God has “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” (Col. 2:14).  Regarding Christ’s death, J. Dwight Pentecost states:

You can be adjusted to God’s standard, because God made Christ to become sin for us.  The One who knew no sin, the One in whose lips had never been found guile, took upon Himself our sin in order that He might bear our sins to the cross and offer Himself as an acceptable substitute to God for us—on our behalf, in our place.  And when Jesus Christ identified Himself with sinners and went to the cross on their behalf and in their place, He was making possible the doctrine of reconciliation.  He was making it possible for God to conform the world to Himself, to adjust the world to His standard so that sinners in the world might find salvation because “Jesus paid it all.”  You can be adjusted to God, to God’s standard, through Christ, by His death, by His cross, by His blood, and by His identification with sinners.[3]

       Atonement for sins is the basis for reconciliation, because God has judged our sins in the Person of Christ who died on the cross in our place.  The death of Christ has forever satisfied God’s righteous demands for our sin and it is on this basis that He can accept sinners before His throne of grace.  The blood of Christ is the only coin in the heavenly realm that God accepts as payment for our sin-debt, and Christ paid our sin debt in full!  That’s good news! 

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)

       Because Jesus’ death satisfies God’s righteousness demands for sin, the sinner can approach God who welcomes him in love.  God has cleared the way for sinners to come to Him for a new relationship, and this is based completely on the substitutionary work of Christ.  God has done everything to reconcile us to Himself.  The sin debt that we owed to God has been paid in full by the blood of Christ. 

This article in an excerpt from my book: The Cross of Christ: Sufficient to Save

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[1] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers 1979), 497.

[2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1995), 138.

[3] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things Which Become Sound Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mi., Kregel Publications, 1965), 89.

The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53

       It is in the understanding of the suffering and death of Christ that the sinner appreciates God’s great love and the price that was paid for his salvation.  Christ suffered in place of the sinner, bearing the penalty that rightfully belonged to him.  Scripture tells us that “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18a).  Perhaps no section of Scripture in the Old Testament bears greater testimony to this truth than Isaiah 52:13 through 53:12, in which the prophet reveals the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  Isaiah 53 is mentioned eight times in the New Testament as specifically referring to Christ, so that there is no mistake in the minds of the New Testament writers that the passage points to Jesus.

The New Testament writers quote eight specific verses as having been fulfilled in Jesus.  Verse 1 (‘who has believed our message?’) is applied to Jesus by John (12:38).  Matthew sees the statement of verse 4 (‘he took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’) as fulfilled in Jesus’ healing ministry (8:17).  That we have gone astray like sheep (v. 6), but that by his wounds we have been healed (v. 5) are both echoed by Peter (1 Pet. 2:22-25), and so in the same passage are verse 9 (‘nor was any deceit found in his mouth’) and verse 11 (‘he will bear their iniquities’).  Then verses 7 and 8, about Jesus being led like a sheep to the slaughter and being deprived of justice and of life, were the verses the Ethiopian eunuch was reading in his chariot, which prompted Philip to share with him ‘the good news about Jesus’ (Acts 8:30-35).  Thus verses 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 11 – eight verses out of the chapter’s twelve – are all quite specifically referred to Jesus.[1]

       Though Isaiah 53 is quoted most often in the New Testament, the section about the suffering Servant actually starts in Isaiah 52:13 and runs through to the end of chapter 53.  Isaiah 52:13-15 appears to provide a summary of chapter 53, albeit in reverse order.  Isaiah 52:13-15 reveals the Lord’s Servant first as successful, and then reveals His suffering and the beneficial results that follow.  Then, in chapter 53, Isaiah reverses the order by first showing the Servant’s suffering in 53:1-9, and then His success and the beneficial results in 53:10-12. 

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. Just as many were astonished at you, My people, so His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men. Thus He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand. (Isa. 52:13-15)

       God spoke through His prophet Isaiah and declared, “My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).  Christ came as God’s perfect Servant, as the One who always accomplished His will.  A servant is one who faithfully executes the will of another, and Christ perfectly executed the will of God the Father.  When God the Son came into the world and added to Himself perfect humanity, He declared “a body Thou hast prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5); and once in hypostatic union, declared to His Father, “I have come to do your will” (Heb. 10:9).  Regarding the Father’s will, Jesus stated, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him” (John 8:29).  On the evening before His crucifixion Jesus declared, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4).  And, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:42b).  There has been only one perfect Servant in the history of the human race that has accomplished the will of God the Father in every way, and that is Jesus Christ. 

       The word “prosper” (Heb. sakal) has the idea of success based on prudence.  It is God who declares His Servant a success, because His Servant accomplished His will, His way.  From the world’s perspective, Jesus died as a common criminal, defeated and crucified by Roman soldiers.  From God’s perspective, the cross was a planned and controlled event, as Christ was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23a).  Christ knew He was accomplishing the Father’s will when facing His death, and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).  The result of Christ’s humble obedience to the Father was that “God highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).  Jesus’ death was an intelligent sacrifice, humbly executed.  As a result of His obedience, “He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13).

       The Scourging of ChristAfter declaring that God’s Servant will “prosper…be high and lifted up and greatly exalted”, Isaiah then gave a stark contrast by saying, “His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).  The word “marred” (Heb. mishchath) means to be disfigured.  Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus endured beatings and a scourging that so radically changed His appearance that had we stood at the foot of the cross and looked up, we would not have recognized Him.  It is reported in the Gospel of Mark that when Jesus was arrested that “Some began to spit at Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him with their fists, and to say to Him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the officers received Him with slaps in the face” (Mark 14:65).  Jesus then faced a corrupt trial before Pilate and “after having Jesus scourged, he [Pilate] handed Him over to be crucified” (Mark 15:15).  Jesus was then given to the Roman soldiers for more beatings before finally being nailed to the cross. 

The soldiers took Him away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium), and they called together the whole Roman cohort. They dressed Him up in purple, and after twisting a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting on Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15:16-20)

       Jesus’ face was bloody and swollen from His beatings and torn ribbons of flesh hung from His body as a result of the scourging.  However, as brutal as it was, it was not His physical suffering that secured our salvation, but His spiritual suffering, in which He bore the sin of all mankind and died in our place.  It should be remembered that Christ made no sound while being beaten, scourged and nailed to the cross (Isa. 53:7) and that it was not until He was on the cross bearing our sin that He cried out to His Father (Matt. 27:46). 

       The result of Christ’s suffering is that “He will sprinkle many nations, kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; for what had not been told them they will see, and what they had not heard they will understand” (Isa. 52:15).  Here is the work of Christ as Priest, cleansing many as the result of His suffering.  The word “sprinkle” (Heb. nazah) was commonly used in connection with the Jewish priests concerning the consecration of objects and the cleansing of people (Lev. 8:11; 14:7).  Through His suffering, Christ will provide cleansing and consecration to the “nations” (Heb. goyim), which is a reference to the Gentile nations of the world.  “Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we can tell all the nations that forgiveness and redemption are offered free to all who will receive Him (1 Peter 1:1–2).”[2]  The rulers of the earth are silenced at the success of God’s humble Servant.  This will be especially true at His Second Coming when Christ returns to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. 

Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. (Isa. 53:1-3)

       Human reason leads to incredulity by those who seek to understand God’s strength through the weakness of His Servant.  God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than the thoughts and ways of men (Isa. 55:8-9), and the wisdom and power of God shines through the frailty of His Servant who surrenders Himself to accomplish His will.  God displays His great power through an unassuming Man, His Servant, who is “like a tender shoot…a root out of parched ground” (Isa. 53:2a).

There is quite a contrast between “the arm of the Lord,” which speaks of mighty power, and “a root out of a dry ground,” which is an image of humiliation and weakness. When God made the universe, He used His fingers (Ps. 8:3); and when He delivered Israel from Egypt, it was by His strong hand (Ex. 13:3). But to save lost sinners, He had to bare His mighty arm! Yet people still refuse to believe this great demonstration of God’s power (Rom. 1:16; John 12:37–40).[3]

       A “root out of dry ground” means Jesus had no sustaining benefit from the soil of His human life.  There was nothing in His environment that benefited or carried Him along from day to day.  Jesus found no nourishment or support socially, politically, or even from His human family; God sustained His Servant by the Holy Spirit and the power of His Word (Matt. 3:16; 4:1-11).  This is true for God’s children today, as the world provides no nourishment or sustaining benefit to the believer.  The Christian is nourished spiritually by God’s Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18), and sustained by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16; Eph. 5:18).

       Isaiah tells us Jesus had “no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isa. 53:2b).  It seems from this passage that there was nothing in Jesus’ natural appearance that caused men to see anything exceptional in Him.  He apparently had none of the outward qualities one might expect to see in royalty.  He would never catch your eye if you passed Him on the street.  Scripture reveals Jesus was born in a humble place and His youthful years were spent in the uncultured district of Nazareth (Luke 2:7-16; John 1:46), working in a dusty carpenter’s shop (Matt. 13:55).  His poor cultural and educational background, coupled with his average human features, disqualified Him from advancing into any of the human systems of the time in which He lived, a time that put great stock in one’s appearance and education.  One had to hear His words and see His miracles to comprehend His divine essence.  It was only the eye of faith that revealed this “tender shoot” as God’s special Servant.  There were some who accepted Christ during His time on earth, when He came in hypostatic union; however, He was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him.  The simple teaching of Scripture is that Jesus “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Isa. 53:3).  For the most part, Jesus was met with unbelief and rejection throughout His life, and this is still true today. 

The unbelief that Isaiah here depicts is the same unbelief found all about us today. Men say pleasant and complimentary things about the Lord of Glory. They will praise His ethics, His teaching, declare that He was a good man and a great prophet, the only one who has answers to the social problems that today confront the world. They will not, however, acknowledge that they are sinners, deserving everlasting punishment, and that the death of Christ was a vicarious sacrifice, designed to satisfy the justice of God and to reconcile an offended God to the sinner. Men will not receive what God says concerning His Son. Today also, the Servant is despised and rejected of men, and men do not esteem Him.[4]

       When Christ came into the world, He came into a place of darkness and hostility, and in this place “was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).  Christ “came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11).  Jesus came as God’s perfect Light into the world, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19b).  However, the rejection of God’s perfect Servant by evil men did not stop the Savior from dying for their sins, and this is the grace of God. 

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 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. 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. (Isa. 53:4-6)

       Here, the prophet begins to reveal the idea of substitutionary atonement by stating, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried” (Isa. 53:4).  On the cross, Jesus bore our sins, but here the prophet reveals He bore our griefs and our sorrows, which are the consequences of our sins.  “The emphasis in verses 4–6 is on the plural pronouns: our griefs and sorrows, our iniquities, our transgressions…He did not die because of anything He had done but because of what we had done.”[5]

It should be noted that the consequence of sin and not the sin itself is mentioned. Nevertheless, when it is said that he bore our sicknesses, what is meant is not that he became a fellow sufferer with us, but that he bore the sin that is the cause of the evil consequences, and thus became our substitute.[6]

       What is difficult for some to accept is the fact that Christ suffered by the hand of His Father to satisfy His righteous demands toward the guilt of our sin.  Isaiah declares “yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Isa. 53:4).  God the Father struck Jesus Christ while He was on the cross with the blows of punishment that rightfully belonged to us. 

When the Servant bore the guilt of our sins, we are saying that he bore the punishment that was due to us because of those sins, and that is to say that he was our substitute. His punishment was vicarious. Because we had transgressed, he was pierced to death; and being pierced and crushed was the punishment that he bore in our stead.[7]

       Isaiah then tells us that “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” (Isa. 53:4b, 5).  The healing here is primarily spiritual, restoring a broken relationship that has been fractured by sin.  The suffering of Christ healed our relationship with the Father, as His death is the basis for the forgiveness of our sins (Eph. 1:7).  The substitutionary death of Christ, that brings glory to God and saves sinners, is a revelation from heaven and not an invention of man.  Paul tells his readers that “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). 

       Isaiah speaks of Israel and all humanity when he says, “all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6a).  Each of us has failed God; but Christ, God’s sinless Servant, is the only One who has ever perfectly executed His will in everything.  God could have easily judged and condemned us all and been absolutely justified in His actions.  However, God loves us greatly, and so “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  Here is righteousness and love on display at the same time.  In righteousness, God judged all our sin in Christ while He was on the cross.  In love, God offers complete forgiveness and reconciliation to those who are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-9).  God perfectly deals with sin and seeks to reconcile the sinner, and this is done through the substitutionary death of His Servant who died on the cross in our place.  We deserve God’s wrath but have been shown great mercy through the vicarious and voluntary atoning work of His Son, in whom “the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Isa. 53:6b).  While on the cross, Christ absorbed God’s wrath that belonged to us, so that “the iniquity of which we are guilty does not come back to us to meet and strike us as we might rightly expect, but rather strikes him in our stead.”[8]  This is great grace! 

Sin is serious. The prophet calls it transgression, which means rebellion against God, daring to cross the line that God has drawn (Isa. 53:5, 8). He also calls it iniquity, which refers to the crookedness of our sinful nature (vv. 5–6). In other words, we are sinners by choice and by nature. Like sheep, we are born with a nature that prompts us to go astray; and, like sheep, we foolishly decide to go our own way. By nature, we are born children of wrath (Eph. 2:3); and by choice, we become children of disobedience (2:2). Under the Law of Moses, the sheep died for the shepherd; but under grace, the Good Shepherd died for the sheep (John 10:1–18).[9]

       God’s righteousness and love simultaneously intersect at the cross.  In perfect righteousness God the Father judged our sins completely in His Servant who willingly died in our place.  In love, God now offers perfect salvation to sinners who deserve only death, and this free gift of eternal life is based on the finished work of Christ who died in our place. 

We were sick unto death because of our sins; but He, the sinless one, took upon Himself a suffering unto death, which was, as it were, the concentration and essence of the woes that we had deserved; and this voluntary endurance, this submission to the justice of the Holy One, in accordance with the counsels of divine love, became the source of our healing.[10]

       The matter of our sin is resolved by the suffering of Christ at the cross.  Jesus paid the price for our sin, and now we can come to God and accept His free gift of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone.  God, who is satisfied with Christ’s death regarding our sin, has opened the gates of heaven to accept sinners as His children.  This is all made possible because of the work of Christ on the cross who suffered for our sin. 

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. (Isa. 53:7-9)

       Jesus made no effort to rescue Himself from those who illegally tried Him, beat Him, and nailed Him to the cross.  Jesus had already appealed to the supreme court of heaven, asking, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).  There was nothing for Jesus to say to His judges and attackers, for He knew it was His Father’s will for Him to go to the cross and die.  Jesus declared, “the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11).

Jesus Christ was silent before those who accused Him as well as those who afflicted Him. He was silent before Caiaphas (Matt. 26:62–63), the chief priests and elders (27:12), Pilate (27:14; John 19:9) and Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9). He did not speak when the soldiers mocked Him and beat Him (1 Peter 2:21–23).[11]

       Faced with illegal trials and severe beatings, Isaiah reveals that it was by “oppression and judgment” that Jesus was “taken away” and put to death (Isa. 53:8a).  And, after Jesus was put to death between two criminals, “His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth” (Isa. 53:9). 

But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors. (Isa. 53:10-12)

       Jesus nailed to CrossThe language is plain, “the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering” (Isa. 53:10a).  God must punish sin as His righteousness requires, before He can save the sinner as His love desires.  It was the Father’s will for the Son to go to the cross to die for sinners, but we must also realize that Christ willingly went to His death and bore the Father’s wrath in our place.  It is simultaneously true that God sent and Christ went.  Christ was willing to be put to death in our place, for the Scripture declares “Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph. 5:2).  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).  Several times the Scripture states that Christ offered Himself up to the Father as a willing sacrifice.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Eph. 5:25)

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal. 2:20)

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Heb. 7:26-27)

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:13-14)

       Christ was not forced upon the cross, but willingly, through love, surrendered His life and died in our place.  And, as a result of bearing the sin of many, “He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isa. 53:10b).  When Isaiah says “He will see His offspring”, it means that Christ’s death will bear the fruit of spiritual offspring as people turn to Him as Savior and are born again (cf. John 3:3; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23).  Christ was resurrected, never to die again, therefore, “He will prolong His days” (cf. Acts 2:30-32; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The “good pleasure of the LORD” most likely speaks of heaven’s prosperity that will be known to those whom Christ will justify and who will share in His riches and heavenly estate (John 14:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:3-4).

       “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11a).  Satisfaction through suffering is the message of Isaiah 53:11.  Isaiah reveals that “by His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11b).  Peter also reveals the doctrine of substitution when he states “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).  It is always important to keep clear in our thinking that Christ bore our sin as well as the penalty for our sin, but this did not make Him a sinner.  On the other hand, sinners are declared righteous in God’s eyes because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them at the moment of salvation.  God gives us the gift of perfect righteousness at the moment we trust Christ as our Savior.  This is what Paul meant when he stated, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21).  Paul understood the doctrine of substitution, that Christ died in the place of sinners and that sinners are declared righteous because of the work of Christ credited to their account.  This explains Paul’s words when he expressed his desire to “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9). 

When the servant bears the iniquities of the many and has been punished for the guilt of these iniquities, the act of bearing the iniquities in itself has not changed the character of those whose iniquities are borne. When the iniquities are borne, i.e. when the guilt those iniquities involved has been punished, the servant may declare that the many stand in right relationship with God. Their iniquities will no longer be able to rise up and accuse them, for the guilt of those iniquities has been punished. Thus, they are justified. They are declared to be righteous, for they have received the righteousness of the servant and they are received and accepted by God Himself. Of them God says that they no longer have iniquities, but they do have the righteousness of the servant. This can only be a forensic justification.[12]

       Justification by imputation is always a matter of grace.  The sinner is declared righteous in the eyes of God, not because of any works which he has performed, but because of the work of Jesus Christ who has died in his place.  God’s righteousness is imputed to the sinner at the moment of salvation, and Paul states this with absolute clarity when he says:

Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [Grk. hilasterion – i.e. a sacrifice that brings satisfaction] in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

       Paul states at another point, “the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5).  It is Christ’s death that secures our so great salvation. 

Grace is love that has paid a price, and sinners are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8–10). Justice can only condemn the wicked and justify the righteous (1 Kings 8:32), but grace justifies the ungodly when they trust Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 4:5) To justify means “to declare righteous.” He took our sins that we might receive the gift of His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 5:17). Justification means that God declares believing sinners righteous in Christ and never again keeps a record of their sins. (See Ps. 32:1–2 and Rom. 4:1–8)[13]

       As a result of Christ’s victory at the cross, the Father speaks of reward, saying, “I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong” (Isa. 53:12a).  Christ is the champion, and He will divide the spoils of war, in which He has overcome sin and death and become the Savior of many.  His victory came “because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12b).  Here is victory in death; victory at the cross. 

       If we had stood at the trials of Jesus, seen His beatings, seen His crucifixion and sat at the foot of the cross, surely we would weep at the injustice and inhumanity of it all.  However, the Scripture reveals that it was the will of God that Christ go to the cross and die for sinners (Acts 2:23; 4:28), for His death is an atoning sacrifice that satisfied every righteous demand of the Father (Rom. 3:25; 1 Jo. 2:2).  As stated previously, the Father sent, and Christ went.  In the willing death of Christ, we have the Father’s righteous anger displayed toward our sin as well as His love toward us, the sinner, whom He seeks to save. 

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Rom. 5:6-10)

       There is a purpose to the suffering of Christ.  He suffered that we might have eternal life.  His substitutionary death propitiated the Father’s righteous anger toward our sin and now we can come to God with the empty hands of faith and receive the free gift of eternal life and be clothed in perfect righteousness.  This was accomplished while were helpless, ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Rom. 5:6-10).  God graciously acted toward us to reconcile us to Himself, and this was accomplished through the suffering of the cross. 

Dr. Steven R. Cook

This article is an excerpt from my book, Suffering: A Biblical Consideration

[1] John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity Press, 1986), 145.

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Comforted, An Old Testament study (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996), 134.

[3] Ibid., 135.

[4] Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich., W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), 344.

[5] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 136.

[6] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 346.

[7] Ibid., 348.

[8] Ibid., 350.

[9] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137.

[10] C. F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, Isaiah, Vol. 7, trans. James Martin, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, Mass., Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 510.

[11] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 137-138.

[12] Young, The Book of Isaiah, Vol. 3, 358.

[13] Wiersbe, Be Comforted, 140.

Soteriology – The Study of Salvation

And there is salvation [Grk. noun = σωτηρία soteria] in no one else; for there is no other name [other than Jesus] under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved [Grk. verb = σῴζω sozo]. (Acts 4:12)

Soteriology     The word soteriology comes from two Greek words: σωτήρ soter which means savior, deliverer, preserver[1] and λόγος logos, which means word, statement or speech, but in English means the study of.  Soteriology, then, is the study of salvation as it has been revealed in Scripture. The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is יָשַׁע yasha (sometimes as יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[2] Salvation in the OT was primarily physical, as one might be delivered from an enemy in battle or from a plague (2 Sam 22:3-4; 1 Ch 16:23, 35; Job 5:4, 11; Psa 3:6-8; 44:4-8; 85:7, 9; 89:26; Isa 17:10; 45:8; Mic 7:7). Charles Ryrie comments:

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…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).[3]

The NT writers primarily use the following Greek words:

  1. σῴζω sozo (verb) 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 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5).
  2. σωτήρ soter (noun) 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). This refers to the agent of salvation.
  3. σωτηρία soteria (noun) 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).

Most often, when people think of salvation, they think of deliverance from the Lake of Fire and spending eternity in heaven. This is certainly taught, but is by far the minority usage of both the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible. Lewis Sperry Chafer comments:

As to the meaning of the word salvation, the Old and New Testaments are much alike. The word communicates the thought of deliverance, safety, preservation, soundness, restoration, and healing; but though so wide a range of human experience is expressed by the word salvation, its specific, major use is to denote a work of God in behalf of man.[4]

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 Jesus (Luke 17:15-16), He told the man, “your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 17:19). Here, the Greek verb refers to physical deliverance. 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 [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 18:42). Again, this refers to physical healing. An example of deliverance from physical danger is observed in the account where 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! [σῴζω 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 sunk into the sea. And Jesus did save him (Matt 14:31).

What about spiritual deliverance? Spiritual deliverance means we are rescued from Satan’s power and domain, where we are all “held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). At the moment of faith in Christ, we are “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). This deliverance means we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9). But the Bible also teaches we are saved the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and will ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5). These concepts are sometimes referred to as our justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification-salvation means we are forever justified in God’s sight because Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (Mark 10:45; Heb 10:10-14) and imputes His righteousness to us (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). This justification comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). In this case, God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Because we are justified by God, we will never face condemnation (Rom 8:1). Our glorification-salvation means we are saved from the presence of sin, and this occurs when we leave this world and are forever located in heaven (1 Cor 15:50-53; 1 John 3:2, 5). I mention justification-salvation and glorification-salvation together because they are monergistic (a work of one), meaning God alone accomplishes both, completely apart from our efforts. Though our justification-salvation and glorification-salvation happen at a moment in time and are monergistic, our sanctification-salvation occurs over our lifetime and is synergistic (a work of two or more). Being synergistic, our sanctification-salvation means we must make good choices to learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), rely on the holy Spirit (Gal 5:16; Eph 5:18), walk in His will (Eph 2:10; 4:1-3; 5:8-10), and grow spiritually (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Pet 2:2). When we do this, we not only live the best life we can possibly live—one marked by truth, love and selflessness—we also store up for ourselves treasures in heaven which we will enjoy for all eternity (Matt 6:19-21).

So, how do we start this wonderful journey? We start by believing the gospel message that “Christ 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). We trust in Jesus who died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At this moment we have relational-peace with God (Rom 5:1). Once saved, we know our future is bright and that heaven is guaranteed as our final resting place (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:50-54; 2 Cor 5:8). Lastly, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3), which means He has provided us with a portfolio of spiritual assets that enables us to live righteously for Him (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). This grace provision enables us to be saved from the power of sin. Won’t you start this wonderful journey by trusting in Christ as your Savior today?

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Fredrick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 985.

[2] 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.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 321.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, “Soteriology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 109 (1945): 11-12.