A gracEmail subscriber writes, “My 18-year-old daughter asked me exactly what Jesus did for us by his death on the cross. I told her that he took on our sins and died in our place. She then asked, ‘But if the penalty for sin is eternal death, how did Jesus’ death remove that penalty, since Jesus was raised from the dead and lives forever?'”
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Because of his great mercy, and through the life and death of Jesus Christ his Son, God has graciously set us right with himself. New Testament writers use a variety of metaphors to express this divine act — metaphors familiar to their readers because they are borrowed from everyday life of the first-century. These metaphors involve words such as “ransom,” “purchase,” “redeem,” “reconcile,” “pardon,” “forgive,” and “cleanse.” The New Testament writers never explain exactly “how” Jesus’ death accomplished these results.
But how could Jesus’ death atone for our sins when Jesus did not stay dead? We must not be confused about this. God did not raise Jesus “back” from death (resuscitation) to the life he lived before he died. God raised Jesus “forward” from death to life of the Age to Come, in an immortal, glorified body suited to that new dimension. Jesus’ resurrection was the signal that God had begun a new work of creation, a work that will reach fulfillment in new heavens and a new earth. If God had not begun that new creation, the man Jesus would have remained dead. That is how much Jesus loved us.
This also tells us something important about Jesus and about God his Father. Throughout his entire life, Jesus had been faithful to God. By raising Jesus from the dead as the firstborn of a new creation, God proved himself faithful to Jesus in return. Because Jesus represented us, all this turned out for our salvation. That said, we approach the boundaries of certain explanation, and description must give place to doxology.