Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on the Synod of Dort. Previous Post. Next Post.
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). This is one of those pure gospel sayings that we all need to have emblazoned on our minds and on our hearts. It contains the sweet honey, the inner marrow, and the rich fatness of the gospel. It brings peace to our consciences, joy to our hearts, and praise to our lips. After more than one thousand years of the Day of Atonement, Passover, daily morning and evening sacrifices, and freely offered sacrifices, the final Old Testament prophet (Matt. 11:13), John the Baptist, proclaimed that what the shadow of all those sacrificial lambs pointed forward to had come. Jesus is the once-for-all sacrifice for the sin that this world has committed against its Creator (Heb. 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). He is the Lamb of God.
Such a statement is also a classic place to consider the sufficiency of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Some claim that the mere mention of texts such as John 1:29 or John 3:16 defeat Reformed theology, as if to say, “You see, Jesus died for everyone.” One book even has an image of a balance, with “John Calvin” on the high side and “John 3:16” weighing down the other. But as we’ve seen already, this is overly simplistic. Unless one believes in universally effectual salvation, everyone limits the effectiveness of Jesus’ death. We have to ask, in what sense does Jesus take away the sins of the world? Texts such as John 1:29 have been understood throughout the history of the church to express the sufficiency of Jesus’ satisfaction of God’s infinite justice on the cross.
The Infinite Value of Jesus’ Satisfaction
When John said, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” he proclaimed the infinite value of Jesus’ death. This value or worth is expressed in the phrase “the sin of the world.” Notably, in this phrase, John speaks of “sin” in the singular. Why? He’s speaking of the collective sin and guilt of “the world” of humanity that stands opposed to its Creator beginning with Adam’s original sin. He’s not speaking here of just the Jews’ sins, just the Greeks’ sins, or just the Romans’ sins. He’s speaking of “the sin,” meaning that guilty state under which our entire race finds itself. Because he’s speaking of the collective state of sin, this helps us understand that he’s speaking of the infinite value of Christ’s satisfaction of the justice of God toward that sinful state. The Canons of Dort state it like this: “This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction [satisfactio] for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone [“expiate”; expianda] for the sins of the whole world” (2.3).
“Infinite value.” “Infinite worth.” “More than sufficient,” or better, “Abundantly sufficient” (abunde sufficiens). “The whole world.” What wonderful statements to sinners like you and me who wonder, “Can His satisfaction reach all the way down to me? Can His satisfaction reach all the way over here to me?” This is why the worth of this sufficiency has been expressed quantitatively with language like “millions” or “worlds.” Thomas Aquinas said the death of Christ “is sufficient to redeem and save all as well as if there were infinite worlds.” Even those Reformed theologians whom we saw in my first article affirmed that Jesus’ death was for the elect and considered the sufficiency/efficiency distinction unhelpful at best still spoke this way. William Perkins said, “The price is in itself sufficient to redeem everyone without exception from his sins, albeit there were a thousand worlds of men.” John Owen said, “If there were a thousand worlds, the gospel of Christ might, upon this ground, be preached to them all, there being enough in Christ for the salvation of them all, if so be they will derive virtue from him by touching him in faith.” No matter how many worlds there might have been, Jesus’ death is sufficient for them all.
The Infinite Value of Jesus’ Person
What made Jesus’ satisfaction of infinite value? John said the “Lamb of God” offered Himself. And He is of infinite value. Listen again to the Canons of Dort:
This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is—as was necessary to be our Savior—not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. (2.4)
The Lamb of John 1:29 is the same person described earlier as the eternal Word, who is both God and in relation to God (John 1:1–2, 18), the One through whom all things came to be in the beginning (1:3, 10), and the one full of glory, grace, and truth (1:14, 17). The infinite value of Jesus’ satisfaction is rooted in His infinite divinity. It’s also rooted in His being truly human, like you and me, except for His sinlessness (John 1:14). He was “made like his brothers in every respect” (Heb. 2:17), “shar[ing] in flesh and blood” with us (2:14), yet He was not merely human, but perfectly human: “in every respect . . . tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). As the book of Hebrews says, He is the kind of perfect priest we need: “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners” (7:26).