Effectual atonement through the cross of Christ is the primary theme of Hebrews 7:1–10:18, as we have seen over the last few weeks in our daily studies. As the central event of redemptive history, the atonement of Jesus is explored throughout Scripture, and there are many facets to this essential work of our Savior. In order that we might have a better understanding of all that the death of Christ accomplished, we will now take a break from our study of Hebrews to study the cross in more depth. Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series The Atonement of Jesus will form the basis of our study of the biblical teaching on the death of Christ.
We begin today with a consideration of the necessity of the atonement. This necessity flows from the very nature of God Himself. Today’s passage features Abraham’s question when the Lord promised to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for its wickedness (Gen. 18:16–33). In the course of dialoguing with the Lord about His intent, Abraham was concerned that God not act unjustly by destroying the righteous people in Sodom, if there were any, along with the wicked. He asked the Lord a rhetorical question: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (v. 25). The question is rhetorical because we all know the answer: of course the Judge of all the earth will always do what is just. He can do nothing else. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4). Our Creator is perfectly righteous, and everything He does flows from and confirms this righteousness.
As a consequence of this perfect righteousness and holiness, God can by no means “acquit the wicked” (Ex. 23:7). All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of the Lord (Rom. 3:23), and the Lord cannot simply overlook this. Our transgressions constitute cosmic treason against the Most High God, and they violate His justice. The Lord would not be just if He did not punish sin, for the essence of justice is that evil gets what it deserves.
Were this all that the Bible had to say about the Lord, we would be in an awful state indeed, for our sin makes us liable to judgment. If God were only righteous, there would be no hope for us. But Scripture tells us also that the Lord is merciful (Luke 6:36). He has provided a way for our sin to be punished and for Him to remain righteous without destroying us. That way is the cross.