Joshua and the Cross, A View of the Atonement
Joshua and the Cross
A View of the Atonement
Many of you may be already aware of the fact that the name Joshua in Hebrew is the same as Jesus in English. The meaning of Joshua and Jesus is “Yhawah Saves.” We might say that a man who bore the name Joshua or Jesus was to be a living symbol that God was a God who saved His people. He is a God who is faithful and always rescues His people from the injustices of the wicked.
When we look at the life of Joshua and Jesus Christ we see many similarities. Therefore, it would be correct to look at Joshua as a type of Christ. By type, I mean that many of his characteristics and actions point to Jesus Christ. We might say that Joshua was a living prophecy of what Jesus would be like and what he would do. What I would like to do in this lesson is to look at the life of Joshua and see how it points forward to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We will see that there are many striking parallels between the life of Joshua and the life of Jesus.
The section of scripture that we want to look at is actually a prophecy made by Moses concerning Joshua. However, it applies to Jesus as well. It is found in the book of Deuteronomy, and it reads, “Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The LORD has said to me, ‘ You shall not cross the Jordan.’ The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said. And the LORD will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:1-8).
From the above scripture let us try to draw some similarities between Joshua and Jesus. Most of the similarities are found within the areas of the work and mission given to them by God. Joshua was given the work and mission of leading God’s people into the land that God promised to their fathers. In like manner, the mission of Jesus is and was to bring many sons to glory [Heb. 2:10]. In order to fulfill God’s mission, Joshua had to cross over the Jordan River before the Israelites. In like manner, Jesus had to cross the river of death into glory to blaze the trail for all those who would believe on him. Joshua had to defeat the inhabitants of the land before the Israelites could possess the land. Again, in like manner, Jesus had to enter into the heavenlies and defeat the principality and powers in the heavenly places before the new creation could be formed. Finally, both Joshua and Jesus had to believe in the abiding presence of God in order for them to accomplish God’s purpose. In order for them to be faithful, they had to cling to the promise, “I will never leave you or for sake You.” We will come back to the importance of this promise later.
Moses, Joshua, and Jesus
We can also see a remarkable parallel between Joshua and Jesus in their relationship to Moses, who was a symbol of the Law that he gave to the people. Under the leadership of Moses, the people lived under the law and yet never received the promise. However, under the leadership of Joshua, they received the promise. In essence, Moses pointed God’s people to the one that would lead them into the promised inheritance. This is similar to the law of Moses that points men to Jesus who in essence is the true promise and the true law. “The Law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul says, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24). The law leads to the promise, but it will not take us into the promise. The promise can only be entered by believing the promise and the Promised One, who is Jesus Christ. If we are going to receive the promise, we must follow the Promised One into the promise. In light of this, the words of Jesus, “follow me” takes on a new significance.
Unfortunately, there have always been those in the Christian church who have believed that the way into the promise is by following the Law of Moses or some religious system. This error in one form or another has plagued the church from the beginning and continues to this very day. It was this error that crept into the Galatians churches after the apostle Paul left and is rebuked sharply in his letter to those churches. “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing— if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard” (Gal. 3:1-5)? From this scripture, it is quite obvious that the way into the promise is for the promise to get into us, and it is also obvious that it gets into us through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ apart from the law of Moses or any other law or religion (Gal. 3:21).
The modern preachers of law, who believe that the law of Moses (Ten Commandments) must be preached to convict the sinner of his sins before the gospel of Christ can be received, has no precedents in scripture. The gospel of Christ is the bearer of the spirit and has all the power that is needed to convict the sinner of his need to follow Christ. In fact, it is in this area that we see one of the weaknesses of the law of Moses and religion; that is, they are too weak to convict the religious man or the morally good man of sin. Both the religious man and morally good man love to hear the law preached for it confirms their righteousness. However, when Christ is preached in the power of the Spirit, the lie of self-righteousness is exposed and the truth that “all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God” shines into men’s hearts.
An example of this is the apostle Paul himself before knowing Jesus Christ. Even though he lived under the law of Moses he believed he was righteous (Phil. 3:6). It was not until he saw the glory of God in the face of Christ on the Damascus Road that he realized his spiritual poverty. It was a revelation of Christ that convicted him of his sin, not the Ten Commandments or a written code of any kind. In essence, the answer to all self-righteousness and perfectionism is a revelation of Jesus Christ. The very presence of self-righteousness and the preaching of law is a sign of an absence of a revelation of Jesus Christ. How could the preaching of law bring about a revelation of Christ? When the law is preached a veil remains over the hearts and minds of the listeners (2 Cor.3:14). My friends, Christ must be preached if men are to receive the grace of God in its fullness.
Still another example of what I am saying is found in the story of the rich young ruler. Once I head a well-known conference speaker use this story to prove that the law of Moses must be preached and the sinner must be convicted by the law before he can come to faith in Christ. But does the story teach that or just the opposite? In the story we find a rich young man coming to Jesus and asking him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In turn, Jesus asked him “What do the commandments say?” and then cites a number of the Ten Commandments. But the question is, did this convict the rich young ruler? The answer is no. It did not. His answer was, “All these I have kept since I was a boy.” This is not the answer of a convicted sinner. So, here we find a case where the law of Moses is too weak to convict a religious man of his need for Christ. But what did convict him of his need? Did Jesus call him a liar for saying that he keeps the commandments? No! In fact, it is inferred by Jesus that he had kept the commandments for Jesus said, “One thing you lack.” The thing that convicted this man was not the law, but rather the words of Jesus, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:18-23). The simple words, “follow me,” had power to convict this man and any sinner, which all of the law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments could not convict. Therefore, if you really what to convict people of sin, preach Christ. However, be assured that religious men will not hear it long before they go away sad. If you want large numbers of religious men to respond to your preaching, preach religion and law, for in so doing, you will simply confirm the religious man’s self-righteousness and the good moral people of their own goodness. Yes, the world will flock to hear you tell them how righteous they are for keeping the law.
The Mission of Joshua and Jesus
It is important for us to understand the mission of these two men, for though there are many similarities, there are also many differences. The mission and purpose Joshua was to bring the children of God into the Promised Land. This would fulfill the promise that God had made to their father Abraham. However, here is where the differences begin to surface. The land promise itself was only a type that pointed to the true promise that pointed to the true inheritance kept for us in heaven ( 1 Pet. 1:4). The writer of the book of Hebrews says no less than this when he says, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day” (Heb. 4:14). In this, the writer of Hebrews-is telling us that Joshua and the promise of the land were types pointing to another person and another place. The other person is Jesus and the other place is the heavenlies.
The Word of God Verses a Theory
In reality, the story of Joshua and his mission of taking the children of God into the Promised Land is a type that points to the eternal purpose of God, which is to have Jesus Christ lead the sons of God into glory to rule the eternals with His Son Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:10). Unfortunately, there still are many in the Christian church who believe in the type instead of the reality of the type. That is, they believe that our final inheritance is the physical earth made new. Though we believe that this earth will be a part of our inheritance as the Sons of God, it will only be a very small part of that inheritance. For in the new heaven and new earth the sons of God will rule with their Lord as the one new man. In essence, the eternal purpose of God is that one new man created in the image of the eternal Son will rule over both the seen and unseen. Who could ever imagine the eternal Son being limited to the earth when he is and was the creator of the entire creation both seen and unseen? Why would anyone believe that he is coming back to the earth to rule when he is now ruling the entire creation from the right hand of his Father (Acts 2:29-32)?
Did God Forsake Christ?
There is a very popular theory that teaches that God did forsake Christ on the Cross and that this is the reason why Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. The truth of this theory cannot really be tested until we establish what the test of Jesus was as he faced the Cross. Was the test, whether or not he would face a God forsakenness or sell out to Satan? If God forsakenness was the fear or test, would he had not experienced the same God forsakenness for selling out? We believe that the thing which he feared in the garden was not the cross per say nor God forsaking him, but rather he feared, in the face of the king of terrors he would lose faith in the promise that God would never forsake him. In other words, the test would be whether or not he would believe the promise and the word of God that said, ” I will never leave you or forsake you.” The theory which we are discussing says that God either broke His promise or Christ lost faith in the promise and came to believe, because he was suffering in bearing the sins of the world, that God had indeed forsaken him. In essence, this theory is saying that Christ sinned in breaking faith in the promise of God which said that He would never leave or forsake His Son. This theory not only makes Jesus the sin-bearer of the world, but it also makes him a sinner in breaking faith with the Father. In this, the theory ultimately charges him with committing the same sin that fleshly Israel committed in denying the continuing help of God and the promises of God in His word.
We believe that it is religion that says that God must turn away from sinful man and not God. In fact, the cross and resurrection teach that God will not forsake His people even in their sin. He will save them and deliver them from their sin. This is what the cross teaches. It does not teach that man is forsaken by God, even though he may feel forsaken. He must cling to the promises of God, even in his sin. The Lord left us that example. Even though he was bearing the sins of mankind, he claimed the promise, “Unto you I commit my Spirit.” Even if he was actually bearing the guilt of the sin of the world, he did not draw back and hide from his Father as Adam did, but rather he committed himself to a loving God that had promised to never forsake him. In his faithfulness to the promise of his Father he met the test; the test that whether in suffering, death, and darkness he would trust God to be the kind of God who never would forsake His child. When you are tempted to doubt God’s presence or to think that He has forsaken you, just remember to ask, “Is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ that kind of God?” The answer is revealed by the cross-resurrection event and is no. He is a loving, forgiving, God who will never leave you or forsake you. Only believe, trust the promise, and cling to it with all your might.
Some may be struck by what was just said, but please do not leave me as yet; give me a hearing. The concept that God forsook Christ on the Cross is not taught anywhere in the Bible and is only inferred in the cry of Jesus, “My God my God, why have you forsaken Me?” But the question arises, is this a question, a plea for help, or a statement of fact? If it is a question, this would raise several very difficult problems. One of these would be if Jesus knew ahead of time that God was going to turn away from him on the cross as he was bearing the sins of the world, why did he ask such a question? It seems as if Jesus would have already known why God was turning away from him if this theory is right. And if he did not know that God would turn away from him, why was he so upset about the cross? Was he simply a coward who was afraid of the cross, a form of death that thousands of men had faced before with much more courage? Or was it the test itself that he feared knowing that the destiny of the universe and all of mankind would be determined by belief or unbelief in the promise as stated in scripture and confirmed at his baptism? Would he believe in God’s abiding presence and Sonship in the face of the most hideous power in all of creation, the power of death or would he shrink back, believing that God had forsaken him?
In essence, the temptations that the Lord faced on the cross were the same that he faced at the beginning of his ministry. In facing these temptations, the cost of failure was beyond human imagination. The eternal purpose of God and the destiny of man hung in the balance. If we can understand the nature of his first temptation, it may help us in understanding the nature of his encounter with Satan on the cross. In the first temptation story, we find Satan trying to tempt Jesus to deny his Sonship, which was based on God’s word. He tried to get him to go beyond the word of Sonship and to seek conformation in the miraculous. If Jesus had succumbed to this temptation, he would have shown a lack of faith in God’s word and in the God who speaks through scripture. He then, in essence, would have denied his Sonship and the Fatherhood of God.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, we again see that it was his Sonship and God’s fatherhood that was at stake. If Jesus was truly the Son of God and if God was his Father, he must trust the promises of his Father. The promises that God would never leave him or forsake him and that God would hear his cry and deliver him as his very name Jesus [God delivers] symbolized. Doubting the promise of God’s faithfulness would be equal to Jesus questioning his Sonship and the very Fatherhood of God. It also would have been equal to unbelief or sin. But Jesus did not sin or doubt the promises of God, but rather he was faithful as a Son clinging to the faithfulness of his Father. Therefore, Jesus has now become a symbol that promises deliverance to all those who will put their faith in him. In Jesus, we see the promise that God will answer the cries of His people for deliverance and justice (Luke 18:6-8). In Jesus, we have a guarantee that God will never leave us or forsake us.
Let look a little closer at the words of the Lord, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words are a quotation from the Psalms 22 and were first spoken by King David. With just a casual reading of the Psalm, one is immediately struck by the fact that the Psalm is not a statement of fact about the condition of David, but rather a plea for help. But even more than that, it is a positive affirmation that God is present and will not forsake His holy one. “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (Ps. 22:24). It is clearly stated in this passage that David’s words are a “cry for help” and there is no doubt that when you look at the gospel record that those standing by the crucifixion interpreted the Lord’s cry as a cry for help from God (Matt 27:46-50). In response to his cry, the Father sends his angels to rescue him from the powers, but only after the Father’s heart was revealed in the loving sacrifice of His Son. It is finished. The Father had been made known to the world through the cross of His Son. The power of the cross is that it is a revelation of the Father’s heart. It also reveals a God that will never forsake His people and a God that will always be with those who cry out to Him.
I also have some serious doubts about a forsaken Christ because there are so many plain passages of scripture that explicitly teach that God would not forsake his elected one. One of those passages is the one sighted above; Ps. 22:24, that plainly teaches that God would not turn His face away from Christ. Another passage that seems to add doubt to a forsaken Christ is found in the Book of Acts. David said about him: “I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence” (Acts 2:25-28). This passage raises the question; was there ever a time when the face of God was not before Jesus the Christ? According to this passage, there was not. Throughout the gospels, we see the same thing; a Christ who had an absolute unbroken fellowship with the Father.
If the idea of a forsaken Christ is not taught in scripture, where did it come from? I believe we can trace the source of this theory to still another theory. The other theory is the Penal Theory of the Atonement that was set forth by some of the early fathers of the church and then by some of the reformers. The Penal Theory of the atonement is formed on the inviolability of God’s Law and the justice of God. In short, the divine law cannot be set aside and sin must be punished. Someone must die to satisfy the demands of The Law. “For the wages of sin is death.” When death is interpreted as separation from God, the death of Jesus must infer that he was at some time separated from God; thus, My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This all sounds logical, but only if you carry in your mind as your principal model of God as judge. For the person or culture whose main model of God is that of a loving Father, this view not only sounds strange but also unjust. The image of God which teaches that God is a judge who demands that the letter of the laws’ punishment be handed out, does not seem to go along well with the image of the Father, who Jesus painted for us in the story of the prodigal son. In that parable, there is not even a hint of any form of retribution or payback for the son’s misbehavior. The Father simply forgives as a free act of love, and no one is punished for sin. But why is no one punished? Because that is the kind of God we worship. He is a God who will never leave you or forsake you. So let us follow the example of the author and perfecter of our faith our Joshua, Jesus Christ, who has crossed the Jordan before us by hanging on to and believing the promises of God; the covenant promise that says, “I will never leave or forsake you.” Let us commit to walk by faith and not by sight. Let us not ask for God to prove His presence by signs and wonders as the Israelites did, but let us simply believe the word of the promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Ex. 17:2-7, Matt. 4:7).
“The design of the atonement was not to furnish a ground on which God would save men, but rather on which He could save men.“ [i]
I have had a few people ask me about the idea that God has forgiven sin—past, present, and future. If this is true, how can God hold a person accountable for sin that is already forgiven? The statement that God has forgiven sin—past, present, and future may be true, but it needs to be clarified. For example, what about those who are not Christians? The Scriptures say that Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Therefore, all men have had their sins forgiven in the atonement. However, few Christians would say that all non-Christians are going to be saved. But why not, if all sin is forgiven by the atonement (1 John 2:1, 2 Cor. 5:19)? We must conclude from this that it takes something more than the forgiveness of sin to be saved. The atonement simply opens the way to God and keeps the door open; it does not guarantee salvation. The atonement simply allows one to approach God. This was symbolized at the death of Christ with the tearing of the temple veil, which showed that the way to God was now open. If we go to Scripture, we find a number of things other than forgiveness that are required to be saved. The main requirement other than forgiveness seems to be faith. “By grace are you saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8). And again, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
A biblical example of the above is the story of the lost son. The son went into the far country, which represented sin and a nonexistent relationship with his father. However, his father had forgiven him, but even with his father’s forgiveness, he was out of relationship and was still dead in his sin. The father’s forgiveness was only a part of the equation; it was not the total. It only opened the way for his son to return. The son had to recognize his state and return to the father (repentance). If the son would have stayed in the far country, he would have had his father’s forgiveness, but he would not have been saved. Salvation was in the father’s house and not in the far country (Luke 15:11-24).
If forgiveness of sin is a gift of God in the past, present, and future, it seems it must be accepted through faith in the past, present, and future. Again, if God is the eternal “now,” i.e., outside time, it would seem logical to believe that faith must be maintained in the now in order for a person to accept the forgiveness of sin for past, present, and future sin. This simply means that one must stand or abide in faith or Christ to remain in a forgiven state. Being in Christ is being in the Father’s house.[ii] Those who say you can live in the far country and be saved by the finished work of Christ, simply do not know what they are talking about. Does not the Bible say that Christ died once and for all for sin? Yes, everyone’s sins are forgiven—believers and unbelievers. However, that does not mean they are saved. The atonement means they now have access to the Father through their faith relationship with Christ. Through faith and baptism they are put into Christ (The Fathers house) where there is forgiveness of sin and salvation (Rom. 6:1-3, Gal. 3:26-27, Acts 2:38).
In view of the above, we should be cautious how we use the expression that “our sins have been forgiven—past, present, and future. This teaching is not expressly taught in Scripture and needs much clarification. Because of the fuzzy thinking in the Christian movement, I personally would avoid using it.
[i] Rom. 3:25-26 Elect in The Son by Robert Shank page 37. Robert Shank is a Bible scholar who has written two fine books, which I highly recommend: Elect in The Son and Life in The Son.
[ii] John 15:5-8 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” NIV