Where is atonement and the cross in the Book of Revelation?

Any discussion of ‘the cross’ in the Book of Revelation immediately faces a substantial challenge: in contrast with almost every other book in the New Testament, it is barely mentioned at all overtly. Its solitary explicit appearance comes in an extended prophetic narrative in chapter 11: the bodies of the ‘two witnesses’ will ‘lie in the public square of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified’ (11.8). The identification of the place in this way has led some to suppose that ‘the great city’ was John’s oblique way of referring to Jerusalem. But it is very hard to think of Jerusalem as the city that ‘rules over the kings of the earth’ (17.18) who made all the merchants of the world rich (18.19). Identifying it as a place of sin and debauchery (‘Sodom’) and a place of slavery for God’s people from which they would be liberated in exodus (‘Egypt’) points to it as being the jurisdiction of Rome—by whose power Jesus was put on the cross. The crucifixion is therefore here described as exemplary: just as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, so his faithful followers, bearing prophetic witness after the pattern of Moses and Elijah, will also suffer and be killed. But like their Lord, they too will experience the victory of resurrection life in defiance of their enemies, and this will lead some to repentance (11.11–12).

This single example highlights the complexity of analyzing Revelation for theological themes—a complexity which puts many ordinary readers off engaging with it. Despite the widespread view that the text relates to some future ‘end time’ (which, remarkably, is always just about to happen), John makes it clear that he is writing a letter to his first century contemporaries living in the province of Asia, the Western end of what we now call Turkey. This is clear from the epistolary language in 1.4–5 and 1.9 as well as the closing remarks in 22.8 and 22.21. It is evident in the local details within the messages to the assemblies in the seven cities, most strikingly in the language of ‘hot, cold and lukewarm’ (3.14) to those living in Laodicea whose lukewarm water supply contrasted with the hot water of Hierapolis (Pummukale) lying on the opposite side of the Lycus River, and the cold water of Colossae further along the valley. But it can also be seen in the practices of devotion to the emperor which find their way into the scenes of heavenly worship in numerous ways, and the descriptions of calamity brought by the four horsemen of chapter 6—warfare, conquest, famine, disease and death—which were very familiar in the first century world, and have in fact been throughout history.[1]

In its first word, Revelation also calls itself an ‘apocalypse’—a lifting of the cover so that we can see what is really happening—and a ‘prophecy’ (1.3), not so much meaning that it predicts the future (though there is plenty of eschatology in it) but that it offers God’s perspective and reality on a world that otherwise might look quite different to the human eye.

A wide range of ideas about Jesus are introduced in the epistolary greeting of 1.5–7, and many of these relate to Jesus’ death on the cross.

First, the appellation ‘Christ’ (which occurs seven times in the book) appears to function as a name here, but it also stands alone elsewhere (11.15, 12.10, 20.4, 6) which suggests it has not lost its force as signifying ‘the one anointed by God’. This title is immediately followed by the description of Jesus as ‘faithful witness’; although the language of witness (martusmartyria) has a forensic sense of testimony in the context of trial, it quickly becomes associated with losing one’s life as a result of adherence to the faith, in 6.9, 11.8 and 12.11. John is here portraying Jesus’ death on the cross as the result of his faithfulness as God’s anointed one, a pattern of faithfulness in a hostile world which believers are urged to follow.[2]This fits both with the language of Paul in Phil 2.8 (‘he was obedient to death’) and of Jesus in his description of discipleship in Mark 8.34 (‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’). The pioneering nature of his resurrection is expressed in the phrase ‘firstborn from the dead’.

In the second part of 1.5, Jesus’ death is described using the metonym ‘blood’, which occurs again in this way in 5.9, 7.14 and 12.11 and offers some key insights into the meaning of Jesus’ death.[3]In this verse, Jesus’ death is a sign of his love for us—a muted note in Revelation, mentioned only elsewhere in 3.9 and 20.9. Being set ‘free from sin’ is an important idea in Paul’s theology (see Rom 6.18–22, 8.2 and Gal 5.1) though John uses a different Greek word for ‘free’. It also connects with the Exodus motif that is found throughout Revelation; our freedom from sin by the death of Jesus is analogous to the freeing of Israel from Egypt, protected by the blood of the Passover lamb. The Passover connection continues in John’s exposition of the goal of this liberation—‘to be a kingdom and priests to serve [him]’, an adapted quotation from Ex 19.6. Most commentators see the following combination of Dan 7.13 and Zech 12.10 in Rev 1.7 as a reference to Jesus’ return (his so-called ‘second coming’). But in Dan 7, the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ is a description of this figure coming tothe throne of the Ancient of Days from the earth, not the other way around. So here and in Matt 24.30 (the only other place where these verses are combined) this must be a reference to Jesus’ exaltation and ascension to God’s right hand; the priestly task of those he has set free from sin is to proclaim him as Lord and lead the whole world to the ‘mourning’ of repentance.

In the second reference to ‘blood’ in 5.9–10, we again find the connection with the Ex 19.6 language of ‘kingdom and priests’. The notion of Jesus’ faithful witness is now adapted into him being ‘worthy’ to open the seals of the scroll, which looks very much like a first-century will document. Because Jesus has been faithful to death, he alone is the one who can reveal to us God’s purposes for his world and his people. The effect of Jesus’ blood is described in language of the agora, the marketplace, as Jesus has ‘purchased’ people for God, language that would include the manumission of slaves by paying the price of redemption. And those thus purchased have come from ‘every tribe and language and people and nation’, a phrase occurring seven times in the text, each time in a slightly different form (5.9, 7.9, 10.11, 11.9, 13.7, 14.6 and 17.15) which combines the covenant language of Ex 19.5 (‘out of every nation…’) with the creation language of Gen 10.31 (‘tribes, tongues, territories and nations’). The redemption found in Jesus’ death not only brings to a climax God’s intentions for his covenant people, it also fulfils God’s hopes for the whole of creation, as his grace flows out over the boundaries of one ethnic group to all the peoples of the world. This language already has a strong eschatological focus; this completion of both covenant and creation means that the redeemed will not be whisked to a heavenly bliss but will ‘reign on earth’, a promise expressed already in the messages to those in Thyatira, Philadelphia and Laodicea (2.26, 3.12, 3.21) and fulfilled in the final vision of the New Jerusalem in 22.5.

The third reference to ‘blood’ comes in the interlude of chapter 7, whose narrative function is to answer the question ‘Who can stand…?’ (6.17) in the light of the reality of the world and God’s coming judgement. In the first half of the chapter, John ‘hears’ the nation of Israel counted in a census preparing for warfare (compare Numbers 1.2–3) and their number is a square times a cube (12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10) signifying the holy presence of God in his world, just as the New Jerusalem is a square and a cube (21.15–17) imitating the shape of the Holy of Holies in the first temple (1 Kings 6.20). But then in 7.9 he turns to see those who have been counted, and this finite Jewish group turns out actually to be the innumerable redeemed from all of humanity. They have come through great ‘tribulation’ (thlipsis 7.14) just as John and his readers are already experiencing ‘tribulation’ (1.9)—which Paul tells us is the lot of all who seek the kingdom (Acts 14.22; compare Jesus’ teaching in Matt 5.11 and Mark 10.30). ‘Having washed their robes and made them white’ could suggest readiness for (spiritual) combat (compare 19.14) but it more usually signifies purity and holiness (as in 19.8; compare Is 1.18) that is granted to us through Jesus’ ‘blood’. It is the death of Jesus for us which give us the purity, holiness and honour signified by the wearing of white, and this alone which allows us to stand in the presence of God himself. And enduring suffering out of faithfulness to Jesus is the right and natural response to what he has done for us, not an attempt to win his favour.

The final reference to ‘blood’ comes in the pivotal chapter 12. Adapting the popular pagan myth of Leto, Python and Apollo, used by Roman emperors as imperial propaganda, John tells us that it is Jesus (and not Roman imperial power) who offers us true peace and prosperity, since in his death, resurrection and ascension (‘snatched up to God and his throne’ 12.5) he has finally defeated that dragon and snake Satan (‘the accuser’ 12.10) and dethroned him. This victory has been won ‘by the blood of the lamb’; it is Jesus’ sacrificial death which has brought about Satan’s defeat, so that he is ‘Christus victor’, a theme we find throughout the gospels (in anticipation in Luke 10.18 and John 12.31) and in Paul (Col 2.13–14, Rom 16.20). But once again we find the cosmic achievement of the death of Jesus intimately related to the response of believers in following his example: they (we) ‘triumph[ed] over him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony, for they did not love their lives to much as to shrink from death’ (12.11).

These themes are drawn together in the central image in Revelation: that of the lamb ‘standing as though slain’ at the centre of scene of worship in 5.6. This compact, startling and paradoxical image holds together the whole range of theological ideas. Jesus has been slain for us, and carries the marks of that into the presence of God—but he now ‘stands’, having been raised. Though English translations struggle to express this, he is ‘in the midst of the throne’ and shares the throne with God, reigning and acting as one with the Father. He does so as the ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’, Israel’s hope, but also stands at the centre of the cosmos and the created order, represented by the four living creatures around the throne. The unfolding picture of the heavenly temple in Revelation seems to mirror the earthly temple but, whilst it has an altar of incense (8.3) it has no altar of sacrifice, since the enthroned presence of God at the centre of the temple has now become the place of sacrifice. And the one who reigns from this sacrificial throne is the true Lord who deserves our worship as only he can bring the reign of peace that we long for.

The cross in Revelation is redemptive, purchasing for God a kingdom and priests from every nation; it is liberating as it sets us free from sin; it is victorious as it dethrones every power of evil; it is exemplary as the ultimate expression of the faithful witness to which we are all called; and it fulfils every purpose God has for his people and his creation. It forms us as a people of the cross, who live distinctive lives of holiness as we endure suffering in anticipation of the hope of the City from above which, when it comes down to earth, will be our dwelling place in God’s intimate presence for all eternity.

Additional note: some commentators believe that the description of the rider on the white horse in Rev 19.13, ‘dressed in a robe dipped in blood’, is a picture of the victorious Jesus wearing his own blood of atonement. I am not convinced by that, because of the particular language that John uses. The description of the rider continues using present participles (vv. 12–13 are one sentence in Greek). The image of the robe dipped in blood is not a parallel to the robes of the great multitude washed and made white in the blood of the lamb (7:14), since the language is quite different, including the term for ‘robe’ (here himation but stole in 7:14). Rather, it is language borrowed from Isa. 63:1–4 where God tramples the nations in the winepress of his wrath and their blood spatters his garments, drawing on the double meaning of ‘blood’ as the juice of grapes (Rev 14:19–20). It is of no consequence that the mention of the winepress does not come until v. 15, since this whole section is present and perfect tense description, and the narrative action does not begin until v. 19.

(The main article was originally published in Preach magazine; details can be found on its website here.)

[1]It is sobering to note that, following the slaughter of the Great War, the Spanish flu of 100 years ago infected one third of the world’s population.

[2]This is confirmed by the numerological patterns within the text. The name ‘Jesus’ occurs 14 times, which is 2 x 7. 2 is the number of true witness (see Deut 17.6) and 7 the number of completion, suggesting that 14 signifies Jesus is the perfect witness. ‘Spirit’ and ‘saints’ also occur 14 times.

[3]Some commentators see the ‘blood’ on the robe of the rider on the white horse in 19.13 as the rider’s (Jesus’) own blood, but this is unlikely in view of the parallel of 19.15 with 14.20.

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38 thoughts on “Where is atonement and the cross in the Book of Revelation?”

  1. It is very hard to think of Jerusalem as the city that ‘rules over the kings of the earth’ (17.18).
    Yes, but the choice is not between Rome and Jerusalem. The great city is ‘Babylon the Great’. The ‘Babylon’ element (Babel in Hebrew) alludes to the original Babylon, capital city of the world’s first kingdom/civilisation. The ‘great’ element indicates that we are dealing with not just one city but civilisation as a whole – the civilisation at the end of the age whose spiritual roots lie in the original Babylon (so Dan 2). Hence the recurrent phrase ‘tribes, tongues, territories and nations’.

    Despite the widespread view that the text relates to some future ‘end time’ (which, remarkably, is always just about to happen), John makes it clear that he is writing a letter to his first century contemporaries living in the province of Asia.
    There is good reason for the widespread view that Revelation is primarily about the end. The overriding message of Revelation is, “I am coming soon.” That’s a prediction concerning the future, still unfulfilled. Right at the start, John says that the revelation is to show Christ’s servants ‘what must happen soon’, i.e. events associated with Christ’s coming soon. Later in the chapter (Rev 1:19) we get an indication that the book has three parts: the revelation of Christ that John has just seen, the present state of affairs, and the things that are to take place afterwards; viz. chapter 1, chapters 2–3 (the letters to the churches), and chapters 4–22. It is surely beyond dispute that chs. 20-21 relate to the future. Recurrent references to Dan 7:19-27 also indicate that Revelation is primarily about the still unfulfilled future.

    Most commentators see the following combination of Dan 7.13 and Zech 12.10 in Rev 1.7 as a reference to Jesus’ return (his so-called ‘second coming’). But in Dan 7, the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ is a description of this figure coming to the throne of the Ancient of Days from the earth.
    In this instances most commentators are right, not least because the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ is not an accurate quotation from Dan 7, and in that chapter the ‘one like a son of man’ is not shown coming from anywhere. He comes to the Ancient of Days on the throne as in Rev 5:7, where he is awarded dominion and glory and, by implication, kingship. His coming ‘with the clouds of heaven’ is a separate event. We are not told where he came from or to, but Jesus himself indicates in Matt 24:30 that it will be at the end of the age and thus from heaven. That is why the clouds are said to be ‘of heaven’. The reference to clouds indicates something very unusual (meteorological clouds are not a preternatural phenomenon even in Israel), while ‘of heaven’ indicates that they are at a higher level than the troposphere and stratosphere – clouds of thick darkness that envelop the whole earth.

    • Steven

      I enjoyed what Ian Paul says though I think the perspectives you point out are right and helpful.. I would say that Rome built on seven hills was a C1 model for Babylon the city of man.

  2. Where is atonement and the cross in the Book of Revelation?
    That’s like asking where are the cake recipes in a book on household D.I.Y.
    BTW, I was struck by one of your previous blogs about Jesus holiness being transmitted to others which is a complete reversal of O.T. norms where the priests were forbidden to touch anything unclean. I began to think on other examples, perhaps blood, forbidden food in the O.T. is in the New His blood. So, if we look for more instances of forbidden things what do we find? Is the prohibition of wool and flax woven together realized in the new when Gentile (Egyptian) linen is woven together with Jewish wool? Are there others? This is new to me.
    Off at a tangent then; I think the bowls of wrath passage is a retelling of the Passion from the Holy Spirit’s perspective. The total, universal quality of wholesale destruction is but a picture of the enormity of the suffering of God in Jesus. It was felt and experienced by the Spirit and the Father at one and the same time.
    What I am trying to say is this: The Passion, the cross, the atonement are all there if you read the Revelation to be about Jesus instead of reading it as an almanac. He is so big we fail to see the elephant in the room. The crime scene so large the world needs to be behind police black and yellow tape.

  3. and another instance of reversal: In the O.T. god complains that the people of Jerusalem build their houses leaning against His Temple with only a wall separating Him from them. In the N.T. The one Jesus loved leans against him. In Rev. 2-3 the churches are in the same house, designated by an area illuminated by a lamp. If the image is of a Roman villa and its occupants it isnt hard to imagine the shops facing the street are accessible by doors to the atrium where the Lord sits. The gifts promised to those who overcome are items that can be used. Imagine the church as shops surrounding the quiet centre of a Roman villa, leaning against its outer wall. What was forbidden is now exactly how the church is constructed. We face out into the world but we have , at the back of the shop, a door to the atrium and our Lord . Pergamum the kitchen/bread shop. Antipas was roasted alive in it. Their means of employment is revived when Jesus promises them Manna and a new, White quern Stone to grind it with. They make bread and serve it free to passing traffic on the street.
    The image of the church therefore is not of some holy spiritual place but a halfway house between the quiet private space of the atrium and the noise and bustle of the street,

  4. Can I ask a basic question – why did the salvation of sinful human beings require the death of the sinless human being/God?

    Or are we not in fact provided with an answer? Is this the ‘deep magic’ that Lewis speaks of in his books?

    Some commentators suggest the terribleness of his suffering and death indicates the seriousness of our sin to God. I think there’s truth in that. But it doesnt answer my basic question.



    • Peter,

      Yes, I think C. S. Lewis was on to something there. If we follow his allegory Jesus died on the stone table to rescue Edmund (Adam) from the Witch (Satan).

      It seems that Lewis was pursuing a christus victor model of the cross—the rescue of Adam from Satan/powers of darkness—rather than (at least not here) a redemption from sin.

      I believe the Emperor’s deep magic on this is addressed in Romans 7:1–4.


    • Hello Peter,
      First, what, to you, is salvation? Maybe your view of it is too narrow?
      But, a deep hint is to be found in this from Sinclair Ferguson. Stick with it to the end to encounter its rich profundity, I’d suggest. It may seem to be tangential to your question, but I’d posit that it is central. And it’s not applicable only to a particular place and time but is core to much of current theological and cultural debate.
      It is sublime, unsurpassable, offensive -to- human nature, Good News. Christ -Triune God reality. Knowable. A mystery solved, made known, revealed. A Blessed Assurance.
      “The Whole Christ”:

          • I don’t think so—he slid past it and instead criticised legalism and antinomianism. To my mind, this is remarkable. His Confessional position is the Westminster Confession which states in #7:2 that:

            “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works. In it life was promised to Adam and through him to his descendants, on the condition of perfect, personal obedience.”

            — such teaching is not anywhere in the text of Genesis—it is an invention. The WCF is not just built on legalism, it is a ‘one strike and you are out’ legalism. A legalism that requires the whole law to be kept perfectly—impossible for us, but nonetheless still required, thus Jesus had to keep it perfectly and then we had to have it imputed to us (imputed active obedience, IAO) as part of the atonement.

            God did not say at the gates of Eden, “because you disobeyed me,” he said, “because you have done this.” (Genesis 3:14). Done what? “Eaten of the tree which I commanded you you shall not eat.” (Genesis 3:17).

          • Hello Colin,
            This thread is a great distraction from Ian Paul’s article,
            I know next to nothing about the WCF, but what Ferguson speaks and writes about is not a contradiction from what you legalistically , adversarily cite. You’d really have to take it up with him.There are many longtitudinal biblical themes as you know.
            As you will be aware, having listened to it Ferguson roots legalism and antinomianism in the same place. And points out that we are all legalists at heart.
            But this teaching also needs to be read alongside his teaching on our Union with Christ, God’s ultimate purpose.
            And Ferguson draws his talk to a close with such expansive unsurpassed generosity of God. Is there really nothing in it that stimulates thankfulness, praise and worship of our glorious God! And greater life transforming, enhancing, knowledge of him.

        • Colin

          I agree that Genesis didn’t promise life upon obedience but death upon disobedience. However, while I do not subscribe to IAO nevertheless the law required complete obedience (Gals 3,4). The thing is, in his death Jesus not only bore our sins but he took us in death with him out of the world where law applies. We are united to a resurrected Christ and all that he accomplished is ours. Not sure if you agree with this.

    • Peter

      Are we intended to look at all the metaphors for the atonement to find the answer to this. Certainly the various biblical metaphors provide a very full answer. If other reasons exist they are hidden in the mind of God but the things that are revealed are for us and our children.

    • What is salvation? It is being saved from our just punishment.

      God is perfectly just. He will not let evil go unpunished. (What loving father would be satisfied in any other way). Either we must be punished for our sins – and grievously punished for our grievous sins – or our beloved* creator must be punished for our sins. And our creator must sinless, lest He is simply punished for his own sins.

      Our creator, being perfect in mercy and love, chose to suffer the punishment that we deserved so we need not suffer it (that is to say, that we are saved from it).

      * Imagine if a 19 year old joyrides your car and wrecks it. The punishment is a large fine, and compensation. The father signs a cheque, and his teen mockingly says to him, “I guess there’ll be no Australia this year for you.” Has justice been done? Compare that to the case where the ten is white faced and tear-stricken

      • So just to clarify, the standard understanding why Jesus died is that God has declared the consequences/wages of sin is the punishment of human death, but instead of us dying Jesus died in our place. So it’s based on God’s declaration of the punishment for sin, but we don’t know why that is the case. Ok.

        • Imagine a murder; pre-mediated, callous as wicked as it can be without sympatheic circumstances. A just punishment of that must be at least death; it can’t be less than the crime. (Imagine if I dine and dash a one hundred pound meal, if the punishment is a fine of ten pounds then this simply does not work.)

          We are murderers in our hearts. We are grievous sinners. We sin against a perfect and infinite God. We deserve great punishment.

          But the wages of sin being death are not paid by God. They are the rewards from sin to those who choose to dedicate themselves to sin. (I’m inclined to say that it is simply a biological fact, and that sin simply gives insignificant rewards compared to the gift of God which is everlasting life.) Jesus did not die billions of deaths, but he did bear the just punishment for billions of sinners.

          • Can I take you up on a couple of those points:

            “A just punishment of that must be at least death; it can’t be less than the crime.”

            Yet when Cain murdered Abel, God did not pronounce his punishment was death. Or is that because it was ‘before’ the Law? Still doesnt make quite sense. The OT punishment for a number of ‘sins’ was death even though the crimes did not involve murder. I would suggest most people today do not murder others, including in their hearts.

            “Jesus did not die billions of deaths, but he did bear the just punishment for billions of sinners.”

            Does the billions of sinners you refer to mean the whole world, ie all humans who have ever lived? If so, why are not all saved?



          • God’s reaction to Cain is a very clear demonstration of God’s mercy. That does not mean God will deny Abel justice, ultimately.

            The punishment perfectly matching the crime is the lower bound of what justice to bear, but it is important to remember that in the iron age more things are matters of life and death, than they are today.

            “I would suggest most people today do not murder others, including in their hearts.”

            I think you’re wrong. But, I don’t think either of us has a survey.

            I think Christ was willing to bear the punishment for all. Not all are saved, because some reject salvation.

        • Well, just to clarify, on what basis do you think God should be granting you eternal life? Presumably it’s not on the basis of a right. Nor on the basis that sin – which corrupts every part of our being (with the corruption of the body reflecting the corruption of the soul) – does not matter. Do you have a personal hope, something more than a detached view of an intellectual question? If you do, on what is it founded? Would you be happy just to enter the new life untransformed? If not, what is the nature of the cleansing that must take place, and how is that done? Or perhaps you think it is in your own power to remove the corruption?

          In your last comment you say you don’t know why God punishes sin by death, implying that the corrupted human race should be allowed to live forever, and that sin should have no consequence. (One might regard the whole of history as collectively that of one man living forever up to now. Do you think that, building on all the moral achievements of the past, we are now quite close to paradise?) If you think the forfeiture of life is too harsh, what alternative punishment do you think would be more just?

          The NT says much in relation to these questions.

  5. Geoff,

    You say “What Ferguson speaks and writes about is not a contradiction from what you legalistically , adversarily cite.”

    I agree with what Sinclar Ferguson says in the video. It is good. I simply quote verbatim from the WCF, which outlines the belief that eternal life was to be attained by means of a covenant of works, a law-work, to be performed perfectly. If that is not legalism, I do not know what is? He is an eminent Christian and I have benefited from his ministry. But has spent a lifetime teaching the WCF, so it is ironic that he does not recognise this disconnect. But this is how paradigms often work.

    • WCF #7.2 of Eden says this:
      “The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works. In it life was promised to Adam and through him to his descendants, on the condition of perfect, personal obedience.”

      And Wikipedia attempts this definition of theological legalism:
      “The direct or indirect attachment of behaviors, disciplines, and practices to the belief in order to achieve salvation and right standing before God.”

      • And just to be clear for those that are late to this correspondence – it started with a question of how the atonement works – and the clip Geoff helpfully posted was of Sinclair Ferguson speaking directly from the Edenic narrative.

        I agree it is a bit distant from Revelation – but this is either the wonder or the curse of a blog – I cannot decide which!

      • Colin,
        I recognise none of that in the teaching and preaching of Ferguson. Indeed, I recognise the opposite. Certainly, the linked talk is a polar opposite. As is his teaching on our Union with God in Christ. This, to me, is so very highly neglected, wonderous Christian teaching of what it is the be Christian.
        Mike Reeves in his UK books, *The Good God* and *Christ our Life* provides more of similar teaching (from an Anglican, I understand) which is so very far from legalism. Even a legalism that finds its home in the opposite direction of licensiousness!
        Just what are you seeking to prove? On the one hand accepting
        Ferguson’s teaching is good but in the next comment seeking to not let go?
        Enjoy God.

        • Exactly! He is speaking against legalism. I am agreeing with him—and with you!

          But I am trying to point out that his teaching against legalism from the Edenic narrative in the video does not appear to match his Confessional position—a position that I understand he would have to have held to be able teach at Westminster Theological Seminary.

          This points to a wider problem that Tom Wright has articulated—that our lengthy Reformation Confessions are unlike those of the early church—they outline extensive and detailed doctrinal positions which, in effect, can hold us hostage.

          For example, they can stymie biblical theologians who hold academic positions in faith-based seminaries, and to my mind bring into question the usefulness of PhDs awarded by such, as they start with a fixed paradigm.

  6. Colin
    You now appear to targetting the value of doctorates.
    You will also appreciate the awarding institutions for the qualifacations of Ferguson, Beale, Carson, Kendall (who, I think started off in Methodism) Ian Paul, Piper, Reeves, and Andrew Wilson, and many others. Not all subsribe to WCF nor have taught there.
    Wright does not approach his teaching on New Perspectives from *blue sky thinking*. Primarily, is he not NT scholar? Is he a whole bible Systematician, or longitudinial biblical theologian? I know not.
    I trust that I’m not misrepresenting him, but I think Mike Reeves has said that a significant gap in Wright’s theology and criticism of certain reformed teaching, was the absence of
    Wright’s consideration of reformed teaching on Union with Christ, in particular, John’s gospel and St Paul’s emphasis on it.
    Clearly, I stand to be corrected.

  7. I cannot think of any faculty of any Western University, outside of Theology, that would confine itself by its governing principles to examining its subject within a 17th century mindset and understanding.

    • I know of a USA Presbyterian Dr who gained his doctorate at Edinburgh on (some aspect ) of Johnathan Edwards, though I don’t have any further details.
      RT Kendall is another example as is DA Carson.
      Reeves scope was wider.
      But this is getting stupidily off point of the article, just to do what exactly, Colin?

  8. You mention Beale, Ferguson, Kendall, Piper, and Reeves—all fine scholars, but all by and large have built their pastoral/professional careers on the 17th century WCF, which has a clear view of what happened in Eden as expressed in WCF #7.2.

    The WCF view is that Adam was exiled from Eden for a failure to demonstrate perfect, personal obedience. This greatly impacts our view of the atonement (how we get back into Eden) —the subject of this blog—and whether it is seen in Revelation. I believe the atonement is indeed seen in Revelation—but in the main, as I see it, it is Christ as Christus Victor (a model not favoured by the 17th century Confessions), the point I made re the C. S Lewis allegory.

    But ultimately it is about our epistemology—how do we access biblical truth?

    As a biblical theologian I suggest it is from the text from Scripture. Reformed theologians see a greater role for reception history. You can see this, as you point out, in the Mike Reeves challenge to Tom Wright: “the absence of Wright’s consideration of reformed teaching on Union with Christ.” But why should Tom Wright take this Reformed teaching into account?

    It is like saying to John Calvin he should have taken into account the Pope’s understanding of justification.

    There is a certain irony to this deference by Reformed theologians to 17th century Confessions, because of course, the Reformers totally rejected their own reception history, so I would argue to be true to the spirit of the Reformation, we should always be challenging our own reception history.

    And, of course, when people argue for reception history, they only argue for their own tradition, and thus in turn reject Roman Catholicism, Baptist, Anglican, or Presbyterian reception history, depending on their own denominational confessional position.

    • But Colin, Am was debarred from the garden because of disobedience. He was given one command and he broke it and so sin entered the world and death by sin, The wages of sin is death. We only die because we sin. That is a fundamental reason why Christ’s death is penal, because he died. He died, of course not for his own sin but that of others.

      Christ as victor is very important but so too is Christ as sin-bearing sacrifice. If anything the latter seems to be more basic.

      Surely there needs to be a synthesis of historical, systematic and biblical theology by those in those who can. The text is supreme but we learn about the text from others.

  9. And clearly Colin, yours is purely open minded blue sky, blank mind, blank page theology, with no reception at all, with nothing to balance, no starting point but to bang your own drum, doctorate, thesis, nothing received. Entirely circular, methinks.

  10. Ps Just try becoming a lawyer in the UK, without starting with historical reception teaching, including interpretation, and jurisprudence. Similarly USA.
    You have a drum to bang it seems to me. Legalism rules!

    • As someone just dropping into this conversation can I say that my sympathies generally lie in the direction of the WCF or what little I know (and remember) of it. But there are areas where I am less sympathetic. Wright whom I am probably less in sympathy with nevertheless raised an important change in his attack on Imputed Active Obedience. Certainly there seemed to be a danger of making IAO a hallmark of conservative evangelical orthodoxy. I’m glad that has settled. It seemed to be in danger of basing justification more on a life lived than a death died. Michael Bird wrote well on this at the time.

  11. Geoff – I have enjoyed your contribution here and previously- and am genuinely sorry if I have upset you. This certainly was not my intention. I hope we can engage with our different perspectives again.

    Best wishes,
    Proverbs 27:17

    • Hello Colin,
      I’m not upset, though admittedly I do get frustrated, especially when there is inconsistency in application of criticism which seems to be in one direction, without any seeming consideration that, for example, the point is of general application across the board of various traditions including the emerging/progressive church.

      This certainly is not the place to start a new thread on Union with Christ, but to clear up one point, it is not because the Reformers drew attention to it, but because it is prominent in NT scripture, (and, seemingly missed by Wright) that it is important.
      We may differ as to imputation of active obedience of Christ, but while I missed any debate on the point, that John Thompson refers, and while there are risks in subscribing to the teaching, such as inactivity and non obedience, in my limited experience, it seems that many of those who do teach it are so very far from from being inactive, but are vigorous in the gospel.
      But in our union with Christ, in him we have died and been raised with all the glorious theological entailments, such as counted, dressed in robes of righteous and so much stunningly
      Linked to this, but again a separate matter is sanctification. And it seems to me that we mix up justification and sanctification, and too easily drift into a position where, while we may not say it, we believe and live our lives based on the premise that our justification is only certain when it is based on our sanctification.
      It is probably about ten or so years ago when I came across this expression (or similar) from Tim Keller: Christ lived the life (sinless -active obedience?) we should but could not live, and died the death we should die.
      Many protestants embrace the negative aspects, punishment, forgiveness of Christ substitutional redemption but not the positive vicarious aspects. All, I’d suggest are only attribrutable and achievable in Union with Christ. It is here that I am greatful for the influence and teaching of Reeves, Keller, and particularly Ferguson with his extensive NT teaching on Union, over the last decade, especially as I get longer in the tooth. And I wouldn’t say that I’m particular drawn to the Presbyterian tradition.
      But I do think union, oneness, with God, God’s presence is the ultimate expression of his purpose, embedded in who he is. God is the Good News. We get not only the benefits of salvation, but God himself.
      I’m not sure *teeth sharpening teeth* on each other is an appropriate modern day interpretation of iron sharpening iron.
      Yours in Christ,

      • Some afterthoughts, Colin.
        I suppose I’d did encounter and was influenced, delightedly so, by Dr Michael Eaton’s book “The Theology of Encouragement,” 1995 (much underlined by me), a publication of his doctoral work, if I remember correctly, but at that very early stage in my Christian life, I knew little, if anything, of the Reformation and drew no links.
        Some years later, union was addressed and espoused in Dr R T Kendal’s, “Understanding Theology” and Morna D Hooker on Paul. But not much gelled, at those times, and I didn’t come across that teaching anywhere else in my church life. Not until a decade or so ago. It remains of little influence or ballast, in the church, so far as I can tell.

      • Hi Geoff,

        I have a few problems with AIO. It’s sometime since I thought about it but these points may help to stimulate your thought. Generally those who advocate IAO (good reformed men) argue that we need two things for justification a) we need Christ to keep the law on our behalf (his active obedience) and we need his death to save from sins (passive obedience). Christ’s death does not fully justify it needs to be augmented by his perfect life. Often great stress is put on the active obedience in justifying.

        The trouble with this is it has little support in Scripture. When we read Romans and other books Justification is placed primarily on Christ’s death. Even in Ch 5 where we are said to be saved by the righteousness of Christ it is his ‘one act of righteousness’ that is in view. We are said to be justified by grace, by blood, by faith even by works but not by Christ’s law-keeping life. I am speaking strictly of he basis of justification.

        I think rather than than the paradigm as Christ’s life on earth plus his death as the mechanism of justification Scripture’s paradigm is his death plus his resurrection life, Here we are in the realm of union with Christ. Our faith union with Christ begins in his death through into resurrection ascension etc.

        The life of Christ perfectly glorified God. It fitted him to be a spotless sacrifice. It contributed to the glory he now enjoys but I don’t think it follows the contours of Scripture to say he was keeping the law vicariously to give us a legal righteousness. Indeed Romans 3 says we have a righteousness ‘apart from law’. Reformed theology which I find very helpful in many areas goes off the rails here. I don’t need a law-righteousness. When I trust in Christ I die to the world where law has authority. It can make no demands on me. I live to God and Christ is my resource.

        The righteousness in Romans is ‘the righteousness of God’. It is the gift of God that comes through a sin bearing sacrifice.

  12. So, everyone, any thoughts about atonement in Revelation?
    How about starting with the allusion to the sacrifice of Isaac in ch.1, and the Lamb coming to the throne?


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