Atonement in Luke-Acts Pt. 2

I continue my rebuttal to a Muslim greenhorn who attempted to show that Luke-Acts do not have a theology of substitutionary atonement (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/13/atonement-in-luke-acts-pt-1/).

The Scholarly views concerning the death of Christ in Luke-Acts

Here is the list of scholarly opinions concerning Luke’s depiction of Jesus’ death:

1) Christ’s death fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant whose death has propitiatory value.

2) His death was a part of his atoning work.

3) His death was necessary to make the resurrection, glorification, and exaltation possible.

4) Christ died the death of a righteous martyr.

5) The death of a righteous man whom God later vindicates in the resurrection.

6) The death of the lowly and humble, the death of which provides specific benefits that are then passed on to others who walk in lowliness of life.

7) The death of a great benefactor.

The fact is that Jesus’ death encompasses all these positions since no one particular viewpoint is able to totally capture the extent and significance of Christ’s vicarious sacrifice.

With that said, I am going to focus specifically on points 1, 2 and 4, as well as attempting to show that Luke affirms that Jesus’ death not only fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53 but that his death was a part of his atoning work in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and other Old Testament texts.

Jesus as a Righteous Martyr

Books such as Maccabees provide us with a glimpse of how the Jews viewed the deaths of their righteous at the hands of tyrants and despots:

“I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.” 2 Maccabees 7:37-38

“For their virtues, then, it is right that I should commend those men who died with their mother at this time in behalf of rectitude; and for their honours, I may count them happy. For they, winning admiration not only from men in general, but even from the persecutors, for their manliness and endurance, became the means of the destruction of the tyranny against their nation, having conquered the tyrant by their endurance, so that by them their country was purified.” 4 Maccabees 1:10-11(Sir Lancelot C.L. Brenton, The Septuagint LXX: Greek and English http://www.ccel.org/bible/brenton/MaccabeesIV/4mac.txt)

“Beholding him so high-minded against misery, and not changing at their pity, they led him to the fire: then with their wickedly-contrived instruments they burnt him on the fire, and poured stinking fluids down into his nostrils. And he being at length burnt down to the bones, and about to expire, raised his eyes Godward, and said, Thou knowest, O God, that when I might have been saved, I am slain for the sake of the law by tortures of fire. Be merciful to thy people, and be satisfied with the punishment of me on their account. Let my blood be a purification for them, and take my life in recompense for theirs. Thus speaking, the holy man departed, noble in his torments, and even to the agonies of death resisted in his reasoning for the sake of the law.” 4 Maccabees 6:24-30

“These also avenged their nation, looking unto God, and enduring torments unto death. For it was truly a divine contest which was carried through by them. For at that time virtue presided over the contest, approving the victory through endurance, namely, immortality, eternal life. Eleazar was the first to contend: and the mother of the seven children entered the contest; and the brethren contended. The tyrant was the opposite; and the world and living men were the spectators. And reverence for God conquered, and crowned her own athletes. Who did not admire those champions of true legislation? Who were not astonished? The tyrant himself, and all their council, admired their endurance; through which, also, they now stand beside the divine throne, and live a blessed life. For Moses saith, And all the saints are under thine hands [Dt 33:3]. These, therefore, having been sanctified through God, have been honoured not only with this honour, but that also by their means the enemy did not overcome our nation; and that the tyrant was punished, and their country purified. For they became the ransom to the sin of the nation; and the Divine Providence saved Israel, aforetime afflicted, by the blood of those pious ones, and the propitiatory (tou hilasteriou) death.” 4 Maccabees 17:10-22

These sources are crystal clear in highlighting the fact that the death of a righteous Jewish martyr was believed to bring about atonement for sins, which resulted in God having mercy upon his covenant people and reconciling them to himself. As the following scholar notes: 

“… To die a martyr also means serving as a ransom through suffering, expiating the faults of the community, purifying the fatherland, gaining peace for the nation and chastisement for the tyrants, whose arrogance is already conquered by the martyr’s endurance (1:11; 6:29; 9:24; 12:17; 17:20-22; 18:4). These affirmations go further than 2 Macc. 6:12-17; 7:37-38. Some occur again in the New Testament; see Matt. 20:28. They may also have been influenced by Isa 53:8-12.” (M. Gilbert, “Wisdom Literature,” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period: Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Qumran Sectarian, Writings, Philo, Josephus, edited by Michael E. Stone [Van Gorcum Fortress Press, Philadelphia 1984], Chapter Seven, p. 318 http://books.google.com/books?id=YyZM4BI2UMIC&dq=Jewish+Writings+of+the+Second+Temple+Period:+Apocrypha,+Pseudepigrapha,+Qumran+Sectarian,+Writings,+Philo,+Josephus&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=vNYXrlqYj3&sig=rH4PerfMzC9SjJgV-ciMnJ9lznU&hl=en&ei=qX_fSuyUGMmPtge6iq0B&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAgQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=false; bold emphasis ours)

Noted Messianic Jewish scholar Dr. Michael L. Brown provides some further insights into the Jewish thinking concerning the slaughter of the righteous martyrs:

“Another consideration tinged the Jewish response to the slaughter of its people. It was an old Jewish tradition dating back to Biblical times that the death of the righteous and innocent served as expiation for the sins of the nation or the world. The stories of Isaac and of Nadav and Avihu, the prophetic description of Israel as the long-suffering servant of the Lord, the sacrificial service in the Temple – all served to reinforce this basic concept of the death of the righteous as an atonement for the sins of other men.

“Jews nurtured this classic idea of death as an atonement, and this attitude towards their own tragedies was their constant companion throughout their turbulent exile. Therefore, the wholly bleak picture of unreasoning slaughter was somewhat relieved by the fact that the innocent did not die in vain and that the betterment of Israel and humankind somehow was advanced by their ‘stretching their neck to be slaughtered.’ What is amazing is that this abstract, sophisticated, theological thought should have become so ingrained in the psyche of the people that even the least educated and most simplistic of Jews understood the lesson and acted upon it, giving up precious life in a soaring act of belief and affirmation of the better tomorrow. This spirit of the Jews is truly reflected in the historical chronicle of the time:

“‘Would the Holy One, Blessed is he, dispense judgment without justice? But we may say that he whom God loves will be chastised. For since the day the Holy Temple was destroyed, the righteous are seized by death for the iniquities of the generation’ (Yeven Metzulah, end of Chapter 15).” (Dr. Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: Theological Objections [Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2000], Volume Two, pp. 154-155; bold emphasis ours)

Hence, the death of Jesus on behalf of his people is something which would be thoroughly acceptable within the Jewish worldview of his day. At the very least, his death would have fallen under the category of the righteous martyr, e.g. a faithful, pious Jew whose death God accepted as an atonement for others.(1)

After all, if the death of imperfect human souls brought about expiation and reconciliation, how much more the death of Jesus whom Luke-Acts describe as the holy and righteous One of God, God’s uniquely beloved Son who had committed no sin, but was perfectly pleasing to his Father?

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Listen, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. And of His kingdom there will be no end.’ Then Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I do not know a man?’ The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore the Holy One who will be born will be called the Son of God.’” Luke 1:30-35

“and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form like a dove on Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son. In You I am well pleased.’” Luke 3:22

“In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice, Leave us alone! What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!’” Luke 4:33-34

“A voice came from out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him.’” Luke 9:35

“And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He gave up the spirit. When the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God and said, ‘Certainly, this was a righteous Man.’” Luke 23:46-47

“The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Son Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Creator of Life, whom God has raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” Acts 3:13-15

“Indeed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were assembled together against Your holy Son Jesus whom You have anointed… by stretching out Your hand to heal and that signs and wonders may be performed in the name of Your holy Son Jesus.” Acts 4:27, 30

“Which of the prophets have your fathers not persecuted? They have even killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, of whom you have now become the betrayers and murderers,” Acts 7:52

“God has fulfilled to us, their children, raising Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.’ That He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken in this way: ‘I will give You the holy and sure blessings of David.’ So He says in another Psalm: ‘You will not let Your Holy One see decay.’ For after David had served by the counsel of God in his own generation, he fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw decay. But He whom God raised up saw no decay.” Acts 13:32-37

“Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Just One and to hear His voice,’” Acts 22:14

I’m not done with this Muhammadan neophyte just wait. There’s more for him in the next segment of my rebuttal (https://answeringislamblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/atonement-in-luke-acts-pt-3/).

Endnotes

(1) Even this Muhammadan greenesthorn admits as much when he writes:

Shamoun has presented one view, another view is as follows. Notice that the arguments here differ from Shamoun’s in a number of ways although the conclusion is the same. Briefly: In Jesus’ time there existed a view in Judaism according to which the sins of others could be expiated through the suffering and violent death of just persons. In fact, the martyrdom of even one righteous person could expiate the sins of others (a good example of this belief are the Maccabean texts – 2 and 4). Thus, it is possible that when the threat of death loomed up, Jesus applied this belief to himself. Furthermore, although Isaiah 52:13-53:12 may be used to support reflections on vicarious atonement, it is, however, never quoted in later writings of the Jewish Bible or even the non-canonical writings. Where allusions to this material about the Suffering Servant do exist in later texts, the notion of a death representatively atoning for others is missing [sic]. Be that as it may, the Isaiah texts played a role in shaping early Christian preaching and it may be argued that the motif of vicarious atonement found in Isaiah 52-3 goes back to Jesus himself. Nonetheless, one needs to be cautious. No clear texts exist from pre-Christian Judaism which mentions the Messiah’s vicarious suffering in connection with Isaiah 53 (more on Isaiah 53 below). Furthermore, the pre-Christian belief of representative expiation did not envisage vicarious atonement through death by crucifixion [sic]. Judaism could not accept the atoning meaning of the cross since death on a cross signified being cursed by God. Yet Paul’s epistles contain pre-Pauline traditions which mention Jesus’ death “for us,” or as an atonement for sins, thereby running counter to the pre-dominant Jewish beliefs. How do we explain this type of an understanding of the significance of Jesus’ death? Such an interpretation could not have merely emerged when the disciples encountered the risen Jesus; rather, it is probable that Jesus had already in some way claimed to be the Messiah and indicated that his forthcoming death would have an atoning value. (Shamounion Straw men and Obfuscations: A Critical Commentary on Sam Shamoun’s: The Purpose and Cause of Jesus’ Death: http://www.call-to-monotheism.com/shamounion_straw_men_and_obfuscations__a_critical_commentary_on_sam_shamoun_s__the_purpose_and_cause_of_jesus__death; bold emphasis ours)

I want to personally congratulate greenesthorn for affirming that the historical Jesus believed that his death has an atoning effect since this admission basically condemns Muhammad as a false prophet since he not only denied the atoning significance of Christ’s crucifixion but even went as far as to deny his crucifixion altogether! (Cf. Q. 4:157-158.) And this neophyte thinks he is actually refuting my argument!

2 thoughts on “Atonement in Luke-Acts Pt. 2

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