I dislike the way that some Bible teachers claim that many metaphors point to the meaning of the cross, but that we cannot fully understand them. The expressions used in the New Testament are not just metaphors. Something actually happened. The cross dealt with real human problems, and we must be able to say what they are. If we cannot explain what the cross has done, then we cannot really proclaim the gospel. Sharing metaphors is not enough. We must be able to explain what the cross does.

The Bible describes the achievement of the cross by using sacrificial, judicial/forensic and economic/business language. These are not different metaphors describing the same thing. They are each a real effect that is important for understanding what Jesus achieved on the cross.

1. Guilt and Shame

The first serious problem that the fall created for humans was shame. God was present in the Garden of Eden. Humans could see the spiritual as well as the physical world. They could receive the wisdom of God by listening to the Holy Spirit speaking. Life on earth was wonderful.

When humans rejected God’s wisdom and aligned themselves with the deceiver, they created a huge problem. God is holy, so their guilt and shame caused them to withdraw from his presence. They still needed his wisdom, but choosing the wrong side of the battle created a barrier between them and their creator. They could not come near God, because their shame made them scared that his holiness would overwhelm and destroy them.

Humans need his wisdom, but they have been unable to draw near to Him, because they get overwhelmed by guilt and shame. We need God’s help, but we cannot bear to be close to him.

God was not the problem. The problem was with humans. We were created with a capacity to communicate with God. We could see spiritually and hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Once sin corrupted that ability, humans cannot bear to be near to God. Guilt and shame shut down our ability to communicate with him.

When the humans heard God coming into the garden, they ran away and hid.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8).

Shame meant that they could not bear to be close God any more. God knew that they had obeyed the serpent, but he still came near to spend time with them. He was still happy to relate to them, but they could not listen. Their shame meant that they could not bear to be close to God.

God did not have a problem. He was still happy to communicate with his people.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you? (Gen 3:9).

There is no anger in this question. God was looking for his friends to share with them. He realised they were lost and wanted to find them.

Later, he explained the curse they had placed over themselves under by submitting the spiritual powers of evil (Gen 3:14-19). Even then, there is no anger, only sadness at what his friends had lost and the pain they would experience. God knew better than they did what life would be like for his people once they rejected him.

Guilt and shame separated humans from the God who had created them. This was a huge problem. Humans needed God’s wisdom to care for the world. They had submitted to the spiritual powers of evil, so they needed him to rescue them, but shame prevented them from coming close to him. God had given them authority over the earth, so he could not intervene without their permission. But because of their shame, they could not bear to let God into the earth. Guilt left humans isolated from God when they needed him the most. Worse still, it shut God out of his creation at the moment when the powers of evil had gained control.

Once God was shut of his creation by the ugliness of human sin, the powers of evil went to work and expanded their evil empire. For more than a millennium, they wreaked havoc on earth, as humans rejected God’s call to return to him.

The first big step in God’s plan to restore the earth was calling the descendants of Abraham and Jacob into the promised land. He wanted to establish a place on earth where he had authority to speak and act. He rescued the Israelites from Egypt and led him through the desert to Mount Sinai. God wanted to meet with his people on the mountain. God told Moses how to build the Tabernacle and establish a pattern of sacrifices. God came and dwelt in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle in the midst of the people. Most of the people were still scared of him, but Moses was able to talk to him and hear his responses. More at Tabernacle.

Jesus and the Spirit.

Jesus was God’s solution to the guilt problem. Jesus offered himself as a perfect sacrifice that cleansed our consciences from sin and shame.

When this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb 10:12-14).

Jesus offered a perfect sacrifice. It provided complete cleansing from sin, inside and out, for past, present and future sins. This means that those who are united with him by faith are freed from guilt and shame. Because we are cleansed, we can accept the Holy Spirit living within us. Jesus perfect sacrifice means that nothing can force the Holy Spirit out, provide we remain united with Jesus.

Jesus perfect sacrifice sets those who trust him free from guilt. This restores their ability to communicate with God. But Jesus does more. He sent the Holy Spirit to live within all those who trust him. This is better than the garden of Eden. We don’t just have God wandering among us. We have his Spirit living, speaking and listening within us.

The Holy Spirit also testifies... I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds (Heb 10:12-16).

With guilt gone, our ability to relate to God is restored. The Holy Spirit can fill our lives and communicate with us. He can empower us to go out and restore his authority over the earth and establish his Kingdom.

Guilt produces shame. Shame makes it impossible to establish a relationship with God. Jesus death on the cross deals with our guilt and removes the shame that separates us from God.


One of the worst tricks of the enemy is to make people believe that God hates them and is out to get them. The spiritual powers of evil stir up guilt because they can use it to make us afraid of God. They prefer that people run away from God because that gives them more control on earth. The truth is that God loves all people on earth and wants to be friends with them. He is always seeking out those who have run away from him.

The Jews that Jesus encountered had misunderstood God completely. They thought that God hated sinners, that he could not come and meet with people until they kept all the rules. They were totally confused when Jesus went and sat amongst known sinners. They saw it as proof that he was not from God.

But they had got God wrong. Jesus came to correct their misunderstanding. Jesus demonstrated that God loves the world, that he sent his son to sit among sinners and speak to them. To help us understand God’s attitude toward the people he had created, Jesus told the parable of the lost coins.

What woman who has ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:8-10).

This parable is not about Jesus. Its purpose was to help the Jewish people understand God. He is always seeking out those who have hidden away from him because they feel guilty. God is delighted when people have their guilt and washed away by Jesus death on the cross and are able to be friends with him again.

2. Economic/Business

The second problem to emerge was the loss of authority on earth. When humans sinned, they withdrew their submission to God’s authority and submitted to the authority of the tempter. By obeying his suggestion, they gave him authority over their lives. They lost God’s protection and unwittingly placed themselves under the accuser’s authority.

This problem became evident soon after humans sinned. When they submitted to the deceiver, they surrendered their authority over the earth to him. This shift of authority gave the spiritual powers of evil work evil on the earth.

The devil is a cheat, and once he gained a sliver of authority, he used it to take humans captive. He refused to set humans free and demanded a ransom that they could not pay before setting them free. The ransom that he demanded was blood.

The spiritual powers of evil persisted in holding power over God’s children who had wandered away from their father. They demanded blood as the price for allowing the people they controlled to be redeemed and set free. They had power over God’s people, so God could not just ignore Satan and his friends.

Even when the accuser lost his court case because the judge declares the people accused to be righteous through faith in Jesus, the devil refuses to set them free. He does not care whether they are guilty or righteous, but continues to keep them captive regardless. Even after they were declared righteous in God’s court, the spiritual powers of evil had a hold over humans. They had taken them captive and demanded a ransom before setting them free.

Jesus’ death paid the ransom that the spiritual powers of evil demanded. He went into Hades and set the captured free. He did not use physical or spiritual force. He simply went to the devil and said that the ransom was paid. The life of the Son of God was so valuable that it paid the price for all humans. This left the spiritual powers of evil powerless. They had set their price so high, they thought that it could never be paid, but Jesus paid it. They had to set the captives free because their demands for a ransom had been met.


The word “redeem” can be used in two senses. In the first sense, the redeemer pays a ransom to the kidnapper to set the enslaved person free. The second is where the redeemer uses superior force to set the captive free. The Exodus was the second type. No ransom was paid to Pharaoh (except the deaths of firstborn and his army, but he paid that not the redeemer). God went to Egypt and took them out against Pharaoh’s will.

If Jesus death was a ransom, then the redemption must be the first type, where a ransom was paid to the kidnapper. God is the redeemer, not the kidnapper/enslaver.

Christus Victor and ransom are not the same. The Christus Victor theology turns the rescue into the second type, like the exodus, where the enslaved people were rescued by superior force, so no ransom is paid. In this view, Jesus entered hell and used physical power to make the devil give up the people he is holding captive. That is not what happened.

Mark says that Jesus died as a ransom.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

His death is more like the first type of rescue where a ransom was paid. God paid the ransom by offering Jesus. The ransom was paid to the spiritual powers of evil who had enslaved humans at the fall. They used to the requirements of the law to demand death for sin. Paying the ransom robbed them of their power, so Jesus achieved victory by being a ransom.

The good news is that once the ransom demanded had been paid to the spiritual powers of evil, their rights to dominate us were broken. We are declared righteous and redeemed from the power of evil at the same time.

Ransom Scriptures

Many scriptures describe Jesus as a redeemer.

He entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:12).
For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (death of deliverance) (Heb 9:15).
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time (1 Tim 2:6).
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45, Matt 20:28).
He gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people for his own possession, eager to do good works (Tit 2:14).
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us … He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal 3:13-14).
Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them (Luke 1:68).
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3:24).
In him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col 1:14).
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of his grace. In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory (Eph 1:7,13,14).
Jesus gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people (Titus 2:14).

3. Judicial/Forensic

A third serious problem for humans arose when Satan became their accuser. This role was strengthened by the giving of the law. Before the giving of the law, the definition of sinful behaviour was not fully clear. The penalties for particular sins had not been specified, except for murder. The giving of the law gave the accuser a powerful weapon to use against humans.

The law was given to allow the people to live in peace together in the new land. They would be applied by local judges emerging in their communities. The tabernacle sacrifices were designed to satisfy the ransom demanded by the powers of evil. The laws against sexual immorality were designed to provide spiritual protection for the people. Satan, the accuser, twisted the law into a weapon against humans by going into God's presence and demanding the right to apply the penalties of the law against humans. The law that was good was turned into a problem for humans. Satan turned God's throne into a court where humans were put on trial.

According to the New Testament, the cross has a powerful legal effect in this heavenly court. (The clever people use the word forensic to describe it). The judicial/forensic language is often misunderstood. God is seen as demanding a death penalty for sin, but this is wrong. The New Testament uses the language of a courtroom, but we must understand the characters undertaking the various roles in the court.

God is a just judge, who he has to be fair to everyone, so he has to listen to the accusations and demands of the accuser. He would have to declare all humans guilty and acknowledge that the penalty the accuser demands is correct. God’s solution was to send his son to die. Jesus paid the penalty that the law requires and the accuser demands. Those who trust him, died with him. His payment covers everyone who is united with him by faith.

When the accuser brings his accusations, Jesus steps up in the court and says to the judge,

These people belong to me. I shed my blood and died on their behalf. I am not guilty of any sin, so my blood counts for anyone who claims it.

Full satisfaction needed human blood. That is why the temple sacrifices were only a preliminary solution to sin pointing forward to Jesus. The blood of a human is worth more than the blood of an animal. The blood of a man who is God is infinitely more valuable than the blood of any other man. That is why his blood is sufficient to deal with the sin of all have disobeyed God. This is the reason why God became a man.

The accusations of the accuser are defeated by Jesus, because although we are guilty, the penalty that the accuser demands have already been paid. That gives us a “clean slate” before the judge of the heavenly court. The spiritual powers accusing us are defeated because Jesus has satisfied their claims.

Jesus death was a punishment, but not one demanded by God. God was happy to forgive because he is gracious. God had given Israel his law to enable them to live in peace in a new land. His approach to the penalties of the law was gracious and forgiving. However, the spiritual powers of evil used the law against God to demand that the penalties specified by the law be paid in full. They said it would not be just, if humans were let off, and they were not. The accuser was able to indict humans for breaking the law, so he demanded the penalty specified by the law, which was death. So Jesus died in our place, as punishment demanded by the accuser, not one demanded by God.

Why did God set up the world in a way where humans had the potential sin and the spiritual powers of evil had the right to demand the death penalty for sinners. We have to trust that God knew what he was doing. Anyway, looking at the amazing ability of humans, to think, to love to create, it seems that God did a great job.

Later Problem

The third problem did not become evident until much later. Satan grasped the power to accuse, but his basis for making charges against humans was not very strong (except for murder - Gen 9:6).

This problem only became serious when the law was given, because it gave him a stronger basis for making accusations. He was able to demand that the penalties specified in the law. Paul explained this further.

Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam (Rom 5:12-14).
Sin entered the world through one man. “Sin” is a powerful ruler spirit (Cosmos Dominators). It could be a separate or another name for Satan the deceiver. When Sin came into the world, another spirit called “Death” gained control of the earth. He was a destroyer who worked to destroy everything on God’s earth.

Sin’s power was limited until the giving of the law.

Sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law (Rom 5:13).
The spirit called Sin had limited power before Moses gave the law, because no penalties for sin had been given. No penalties have been specified that he could demand. Accusing was pointless, because there was no penalty that could be demanded. Until the law was given, the power of Death and Destruction was more effective.
Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses (Rom 5:14).
The giving of the law empowered Sin, the accuser.
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase (Rom 5:20).
In the law, God specified penalties for sin to provide spiritual protection for his people. Sexual sins open people up to evil spirits, especially if one party is hostile to God. Preventing inappropriate sexual liaison was essential for maintaining an evil-spirit-free land. However, Satan twisted the law and used it to accuse the people before God. He demanded the right to implement the penalties of the law against all who sinned.

The law recognised human fallibility. It actually had sacrifices for sins committed without realising, because everyone would sin (Lev 4:1-2). Jesus explained the anger that anger and lust are forbidden by the law (Matt 5:21-30). This covers nearly everyone, so everyone has sinned. The tabernacle sacrifices dealt with guilt and shame, but they do not make us righteous.

God always intended that the last day would be a day of justice. People would be rewarded for what they experienced on earth. People who had suffered on earth would be compensated in eternity. People who had proved trustworthy on earth would be given extra responsibility in the next life. God is a good judge who will ensure that no one misses out and everyone gets what they deserve.

The accuser knew that he would have lost his influence by the time of the day of justice, so he forced God into being a judge in the present age. He went to God with accusations against his people and demanded the penalties specified in the law.


The law was not given to make people righteous. The law was given for three purposes.

  1. spiritual protection.
  2. removing guilt and shame, so people could be close to God.
  3. Allow people to live together in a close community.

Some theologians claim that the blood of Jesus makes us righteous. They say that Jesus righteousness has been imputed to us. I believe that is misleading. It is Jesus blood that has been imputed to us. We are not righteous. Jesus blood has paid the penalty that the prosecutor demanded for our guilt, so the accusations against us destroyed.

Theologians get into great disagreement over the words derived from the Greek root “dikio, dikaio”. Sometimes, the words are translated as righteous, righteousness and other times as justified, justification. This creates confusion about what the cross has achieved.

We do not have a good word for our situation once we have trusted in the cross. “Justified” is a better word than “righteous”, but it is not quite right. We are not innocent, because our sin is real, but our guilt no longer counts. It has been fully dealt with and does not count against us. We have a clean slate before the judge. That is what Paul meant when he said we are justified by faith/allegiance to Jesus.

Outside the City

Jesus prophesied that he would be handed over the Gentiles and killed (Luke 18:32). If Jesus had to die to satisfy God’s anger, he would have been arrested and killed by the priests on the altar in the temple in Jerusalem. That did not happen, because God did not need to be appeased.

The religious leaders looked for ways to catch Jesus in something that would enable them to hand him over to the power and authority of the government (Luke 20:20). Jesus was handed over to the Gentiles and killed outside Jerusalem, where the spiritual powers of evil were in control, because they were the ones that demanded his death. They needed to be propitiated, because humans had taken the role of prosecutor on earth and they demanded death and blood to be satisfied.

See Propitiation and Redemption.

Three Main Problems

Following the fall, humans had three big problems.

Each of these problems had to be solved.

Jesus was the solution to all three problems.

Diverse Consequences

The cross was God’s solution to human problems. It was also a problem for God because he was held back from accomplishing his purposes for the world.

Understanding the nature of this problem is the key to understanding the atonement. The basic problem is simple. Although God created humans and gave them authority over the earth, they wanted to be independent and rejected his authority.

This problem produced many bad consequences. Some were primary effects and others were consequent to them. This is why atonement often seems so complicated. I demonstrate this in the following diagram. The boxes further from the centre are the consequence of prior consequences.


Sin had many consequences. The problem with any image of the atonement is that it may illustrate a couple of the consequences, but will not work for all of them. No image can fully explain the problem and all its consequence.

The solution to the human problem is demonstrated in the next diagram. The cross dealt with the basic human problem. It resolved some of the consequences immediately. They are the ones in the red boxes in the diagram. Not all consequences were resolved immediately. However, the cross established a process that ensures that all the consequence of the human problem will be resolved.


A key consequence was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The remaining consequences (blue and brown) will be resolved by the Holy Spirit working through the church. The ones in brown have hardly started.

The full consequences are described in the table called Human Problems.



Ephesians contains an interesting promise.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Eph 1:7).

Three themes come through in Ephesians


In Romans 3:24-25, Paul summarises the achievements of Jesus’ death on the cross. There four main points.

God did these things to demonstrate his righteousness. He was generous and forgiving.

In contrast, the powers of evil were cruel and unforgiving.


The letter to the Hebrews speaks about what happened on the cross.

Jesus did all that had to be done.

He carried our sins (anaphero).

Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many (Heb 9:28).

He saves us (sozo).

He is able to save completely those who come to God through him (Heb 7:25).

Eternal salvation for us (soteria).

After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him (Heb 5:9).

Guarantor (bondsman) of a better covenant on our behalf (egguos).

Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb 7:22).

Dealt with powers of evil – both their accusations and their ransom demands

Propitiation of the spiritual powers of evil (hilaskomai)

He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people (Heb 2:17).

Jesus put away sin for us (cancelled) (athetesis).

He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb 9:26).

He has redeemed us from captivity to the spiritual powers of evil ( apolutrosis).

He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15).

Jesus dealt with our guilt and shame.

Cleansed our consciences (kartharizo).

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God (Heb 9:16)?
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:22).

We can draw near to God (eggizo)

A better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Heb 7:19).

Purification of sins for us (karthimosis).

After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Heb 1:3).

We have been made holy (hagiazo).

We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Heb 10:10).
Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood (Heb 13:12).

We have been made perfect/complete (teleioo).

By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Heb 10:14).

God forgave our sins and forgot them.

Sins were forgotten by God (mnaomai).

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (Heb 10:16-17).

Sins were forgiven by God (put away) (aphesis).

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary (Heb 10:16-17).