Book Review — Passionate About The Passion Week (Part 3: The Concerning)

If you have not read Parts 1 and 2 concerning The Good and The Odd, please do so first.

Anyone who knows me knows that nothing makes me sit up and listen more discerningly than when dealing with the atonement. It is in my experience that most (if not all) heresies, at some point lead back to this subject. I am not saying that Dr. Varner has crossed that line. And I’m not saying there can never be any grace for disagreement when discussing some aspects and nuances of the atonement. But Varner’s points concerning 1) Jesus not being forsaken by the Father, 2) what Jesus meant by “It is Finished,” and 3) how atonement wasn’t “finally” accomplished until Jesus entered heaven, should cause us to strongly consider the implications if they aren’t read with caution and discernment. 

Jesus Not Forsaken By The Father

There has been a considerable amount of controversial ink spilled in this area. Though I don’t fault Dr. Varner for having his own position on the matter (and I understand his concerns), there is no biblical reason not to believe that the Father did not demonstrate wrath upon the Son by momentarily forsaking him. Or as it should be biblically understood, “hiding his face” from him. 

Because Varner sought to write simply “for the rest of us,” I will attempt to do the same. But, more detailed discussion and exegesis are absolutely necessary. And, his three points listed in the Introduction above are complex, interwoven parts of the whole. In other words, while I will deal with them separately, they are interrelated. Moving forward, then, here are Varner’s two main points concerning why Jesus was not forsaken by the Father:

The Father could not have forsaken the Son on the cross because:

  1. Jesus would have had all of Psalm 22 in mind, not just the parts of suffering and lament. 
  2. Nowhere in the Old Testament or the Gospels does it teach that the Father could not look upon Son.

Psalm 22

Varner rightly points out that when Jesus cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (Mark 15:34) in reference to Psalm 22:1, he would have had the whole psalm in mind, and not just the parts of lament and suffering (p. 82). He also references Stanley Porter’s work as a witness to this truth. A crucial sub-point is that the Psalm is divided into three parts: Lament (vv. 1–18), a pivot point where it turns into praise of deliverance (vv. 19–21), and then a future vindication (vv. 22–31). In Jesus’ case, this future vindication would be the resurrection. Therefore, according to Varner, because 1) Jesus would have had the whole psalm in mind, not just the suffering and lament portion, 2) because v. 24 states that “he (God) has not hidden his face from him…”, and 3) because Psalm 22:22 was quoted in Hebrews 2:12 regarding his resurrection, then it cannot be that God the Father forsook the Son while suffering for our sins (p. 82). 

First, the divisions of Psalm 22 and Jesus having the whole psalm in mind do not contradict being forsaken by the Father. In fact, it bolsters it! After all, it is only the first 18 verses (Lament section) that the Gospels quote. And although Jesus’ cry, “It is Finished,” is an allusion to Psalm 22:31 “he has done it” as Varner points out, this only further proves the case that while on the cross Jesus was looking forward to the inevitable resurrection after atonement was already accomplished (language Varner does not agree with). The principle of already/not yet applies here (more about that below). Therefore, Jesus having the whole psalm in mind would not refute God hiding his face from him while on the cross. 

Second, Varner’s emphasis on v. 24 where it says, “he (God) has not hidden his face from him” doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t forsaken on the cross as a demonstration of God’s wrath (p. 82). It only points to the fact that the Father did not ultimately forsake him. In other words, Jesus’ momentary suffering is what is in view here, which also means that God would only temporarily hide his face from him. This point is evinced by Jesus’ inevitable vindication through his resurrection. And if we observe where v. 24 is located, it is after the pivotal section where it turns from lament and suffering to praise of vindication. In other words, it is post resurrection (Vindication section) that this verse points to in the timeline of events. Meaning that Jesus’ resurrection is proof that God did not ultimately forsake him. Not that being forsaken never took place. And this would be in full agreement with Varner’s observations about Hebrews 2:12 where the author quotes this psalm concerning Jesus’ resurrection.

What I am emphasizing is that while Varner believes Jesus having all of Psalm 22 in mind refutes God forsaking the Son on the cross, it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, the order of the psalm in its chronology of events proves the contrary. And because Psalm 22:24 is in the vindication section of the Psalm, it just means that God did not ultimately forsake him (or “hide his face” from him, which is an idiomatic expression of God’s wrath (something I will extrapolate in the next sub-section). It certainly could not mean that God did not forsake him at all. And these points also harmonize perfectly with Hebrews 5:7.

God Can’t Look Upon The Son/Sin

In Varner’s next main point, he raises legitimate concerns about God forsaking the Son. He asks, “How could God forsake the Son whom he shared intimacy and communion?” (p. 81) He recites the common answer that God can’t look upon Christ because of his sinful condition. And that this is read into” ‘Why have you forsaken me?'” (p. 81). His arguments are: 1) no where does it state that in Old Testament or the Gospels (odd that he would choose just “the Gospels”). And 2) because God looks upon sin all the time (p. 81). And because God is all seeing, and always disapproving of sin, it would be “faulty” to read Jesus’s cry in this way. 

Included with my previous arguments on Psalm 22 concerning God forsaking the Son temporarily on the cross, it can be easily deduced from Scripture how God “hiding his face” is an idiomatic expression of experiencing his wrath. Here are just a few:

Deut. 31:17–18 — “Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God [is] not among us?’ 18 “And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods. 

Deut. 32:19–20 — “And when the LORD saw [it], He spurned [them], Because of the provocation of His sons and His daughters. 20 And He said: ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end [will be], For they [are] a perverse generation, Children in whom [is] no faith.

Isa. 59:2 — But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden [His] face from you, So that He will not hear.

Jer. 33:5 — ‘They come to fight with the Chaldeans, but [only] to fill their places with the dead bodies of men whom I will slay in My anger and My fury, all for whose wickedness I have hidden My face from this city.

As you can see from the verses above, God “hiding his face” is expressed as a demonstration of his wrath. And it should be commonly understood that God hiding his face is idiomatic of his displeasure and disfavor at sin. Because even if God can see sin happening, he alone chooses when and how he will express mercy or wrath.

Now, in regards to Christ, while Varner might say that nowhere in the Old Testament and the Gospels does it teach that Jesus was forsaken by God, it is not hard to consider the contrary when you see how Jesus fulfills being a penal substitute. 

In Isaiah 53:10, it says it was the will of God to crush him (or put him to grief). Also, in 2 Cor. 5:21, it says that God made Christ to be sin, who knew no sin. Moreover, in Gal 3:33, Christ redeemed us by becoming a curse for us. And finally, Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for (ἀντὶ — in place/instead of) many (Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28). And while there are other types and shadows in the Old Testament, and Scriptures outside of “the Gospels” I can point to, the fundamental idea here is that Christ was treated as if he sinned by the Father, and was being punished in our place by him.

Therefore, if the Father and the Son would agree to accomplish such a thing for our redemption/atonement, how could this be accomplished unless an element of God’s wrath is taking place? How could we explain expiation, propitiation, and imputation of righteousness, unless we have God the Father “hiding his face” from the Son as an expression of that wrath? Unless we are to believe it is the wrath of man that Christ endured, or it is a ransom to Satan to which Christ is making payment, we have no choice but to concede that God, at least in some fashion, “hid his face” as a demonstration of his wrath as Jesus suffered on the cross. We could discuss how that may look. We can even debate at what moment that took place on the cross. But it had to happen if Jesus is to be regarded as the final, penal substitute. 

But even if one chose not to believe this “had” to happen, how else do we explain Christ becoming sin and bearing a punishment and wrath we deserve? Could Christ become a curse without God’s wrath? Should Jesus bear sin without experiencing God’s displeasure? As Varner legitimately points out, Psalm 22 is teaching us something greater than just his suffering. But, once again, this would not refute God pouring his wrath on the Son by “hiding his face” when Jesus cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?”

Though I understand Varner’s issue with those who explain God forsaking the Son as simply not “looking upon him in that sinful condition,” I would emphasize that it is more nuanced than just simply the act of looking away or not seeing. And for him to explain it in this way gives me the impression that this is largely a misunderstanding. Nevertheless, I too lament at how many cannot explain Jesus forsaken by the Father, on the Cross, as an expression of drinking the cup of God’s wrath (albeit momentarily). But I pray this will aid in clearing the smoke. 

It is [Almost] Finished (Chapter 9)

Varner explicitly teaches that “It is Finished” (τετέλεσται; John 19:30) is not “Jesus’ work of atoning for our sins” (p. 82). Instead, he believes that “it refers to the finishing of the suffering prophecies (especially Ps 22) rather than the finishing of redemption” (p. 83). His foundation for this position is closely associated with his position in Chapter 12 where he believes that atonement was “finished in heaven” (p. 107). But I will directly address his arguments made in Chapter 9. And though it is my desire to be plain, there will be some linguistically technical points to consider. 

As a skillful linguist, Varner masterfully draws our attention to several other places in the gospels where τετέλεσται (and its other verbal forms) are used to make his argument.

In John 19:28, he points out that when Jesus knew that all things (plural) were now finished (τετέλεσται), it is a direct reference to Jesus fulfilling the “suffering” prophecies (p. 83). Furthermore, he points out that “because the neuter plural “all things” was used as the subject of τετέλεσται in John 19:28,” and because John uses the same verb in 19:30 where Jesus says (τετέλεσται), then he proposes “It is Finished” could be translated as “they are finished” (underline mine). He goes on to reveal how the stem τελέω (where τετέλεσται stems from) is used in passages like Luke 22:37 and Acts 13:29, which are a direct reference to Jesus fulfilling the “suffering” prophecies (p. 83). Finally, after a citing a John Gill quote, Varner asks this odd question:

But is all that included in the one word, τετέλεσται? Is it simply too much weight to lay on John 19:30, especially since the context does not point to such conclusions? Are we sometimes guilty of unwittingly dealing back into John 19:30 a later developed Pauline theology?” (underlines mine)

Such language is a bit troublesome to me personally. So here are my concerns. 

Suffering Prophecies or Redemption? 

As with Varner’s comments about Passover in Part 2, why is such a bifurcation made between Jesus meaning redemption accomplished or the suffering prophecies? This is an odd point to make. Because, briefly put, even if Christ simply had the suffering prophecies in mind, how would the suffering prophecies not implicate “It is Finished” as redemption accomplished? In other words, the suffering prophecies, such as Psalm 22:1–19 and Isaiah 53:4–12, that Varner points to (p. 84) are indicative of redemption being accomplished because of, and through, Jesus’ death.

This in no way would violate the language of the immediate context of John (a point Varner strongly emphasizes) but would elevate Tota Scriptura. Where we look at not only what the immediate context teaches, but how this context harmonizes with the rest of the book, the New Testament, and the whole of Scripture. 

I am not saying Varner denies the redemptive “step” of the cross (though his emphasis is on atonement finished in heaven. And like the Day of Atonement, it was a two stage process; p. 107). What he is saying, though, is that since “It is Finished” is referring to the suffering prophecies that this is the reason we are not to interpret these words as redemption finally accomplished. But, once again, there is no textual reason to choose one against the other. Although his contextual observations concerning τετέλεσται in John 19 indeed point to the suffering prophecies, his emphasis that this doesn’t mean atonement for our sins (p. 82) is unnecessary.  

(Note: This perhaps explains why he placed “redemption” in quotations when giving his points about the Passover Seder (see Part 2).)

“They” Are Finished?

Next, regarding Varner’s observation as to whether “It is Finished” could be translated as “They are Finished” in reference to the suffering prophecies. If this is the case, I would restate that this in no way negates that redemption/atonement was accomplished on the cross. Also, it also seems to be an unnecessary distinction between saying “it” vs. “they,” because either would implicate redemption accomplished as predicted by the suffering prophecies. In other words, either translation would make no more of a stronger case that Jesus only had the suffering prophecies in mind.

Later Pauline Development?

Finally, as quoted above, Varner states that we sometimes unwittingly read into John 19:30 “what was later developed Pauline theology” (p. 84). This struck me as odd for a few reasons. 1) Seeing that Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, “later developed” Pauline theology would in no way contradict what John wrote here. 2) If the Gospel of John was written much later than most of the New Testament, wouldn’t John have already been familiar with “Pauline theology” by the time he penned this book?  3) If by “later developed” Varner means that when Jesus said “It is Finished,” John or Jesus did not have in mind vicarious atonement by the death of Christ, then this would require some much-needed qualification.  

Though I understand that Scripture teaches that without the resurrection/ascension, our faith is in vain, and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17), to emphasize that τετέλεσται doesn’t mean atonement is unmerited. Though Varner references R. B. Jamieson’s work on Hebrews to affirm his conclusions, even Jamieson doesn’t use this type of language. In fact, he would say the cross was “soteriologically effective, is atoning, and does obtain the redemption and forgiveness of sins” (Marshall Poe, 2018; min 29:00). And that the resurrection and ascension “further elaborates” how redemption is accomplished and completed through that offering (emphasis mine). Not negating that atonement wasn’t accomplished at all as Varner seemingly implicates (more on this concerning Chapter 12 below).

Some Intermediary Thoughts

Before I go any further into the next and final section, some foundational presuppositions must be brought to the forefront.

Much of the content that Varner brings out from this book has to do with centuries of debate concerning whether the atonement of Christ was accomplished on the cross or when he ascended into heaven. On one hand, the majority of the Reformed in history affirm the former with several nuances. And on the other hand, you have a heretical group called Socinians who posited the latter. Nevertheless, you can see seeds of both within church history. But with a fairly recent revival of the debate by D. M. Moffit in his book Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews, we now have something worth reading that gives a fresh look on this topic without the stain of Socinian dogma (although my chief concern is denying the essential elements of penal substitution like they did).

Because of the complex nature of everything that goes into this debate, it will be impossible to efficiently address all that is contributing to Varner’s position. Nor would I expect Varner to elaborately detail all that goes into this discussion when his purpose to write this book was to provide something for “the rest of us.” But since Varner brings it up, I think it would be necessary to catalog what are the central issues in this debate, provide some references, and my central concern as to why I am writing this review. 

Central Issues

It is not my purpose to oversimplify an already nuanced discussion. But the issues that Varner does not elaborate on in his book concerning the atonement of Christ involve these questions:

  1. Was Jesus a High Priest during his earthly ministry, or did he only become High Priest after his resurrection and ascension?
  2. Did Jesus “offer” himself on earth on the cross, or when he ascended into heaven? 
  3. Did Jesus accomplish atonement on the cross, or when he ascended into heaven? 

In my estimation, how we answer these questions is essential on how we not only interpret “It is Finished,” but also whether one finds it necessary to make a hardline bifurcation between Christ’s atonement on the cross and his further vindication/fulfillment of that atonement when he ascended into heaven. I contend that no such bifurcation is necessary (Listen also James White’s lesson on “The Perfect Offering of Christ”).

Furthermore, when answering question 2 above, Jamieson summarizes five positions that contribute to this discussion. The differing views as to when Jesus “offers” himself are:

Summary of Views 1–5

(1)  Jesus’ self-offering begins and ends on the cross. His earthly offering precedes his entrance into the heavenly sanctuary.

(2)  Jesus’ self-offering is an earthly event with heavenly significance. His offering is metaphorically described as his entrance into the heavenly sanctuary.

(3)  Jesus’ self-offering begins with his death and culminates in his immediately subsequent spiritual exaltation to the heavenly sanctuary.

(4)  Jesus’ self-offering begins with his death and culminates in his post-resurrection entrance into the heavenly sanctuary.

(5)  Jesus offers himself at his post-resurrection entrance into the heavenly sanctuary.

Based on Varner’s book, he may fall within position 4 or 5. Jamieson, as referenced in Varner’s work, falls into position 5, along with D.M. Moffitt. And without surprise, Jamieson does not affirm Jesus’ sacrifice on earth as a High Priestly work (see Schrock for an answer to this issue). What is interesting, however, is that Jamieson does what Varner and Moffit do not do. And that is, strongly affirm that Jesus’ death was indeed atoning and that it does obtain redemption and forgiveness of sins (more on that in the next section).  

My Central Concern  

My central concern has hopefully been fairly clear up to this point. Because penal substitutionary atonement is popularly denied, along with the necessary components that give it its force (e.g. God “hiding his face,” Jesus being made sin, Christ being punished by the Father, etc.), it is statements like the ones found in Varner’s book that can fan the flame of those whose conclusions mirror the Socinians (or anyone else that would deny penal substitution). Unless, of course, we purposefully and explicitly make the necessary qualifications.

(Note: I do not believe Varner is a Socinian.)

Even Moffitt, who denies that Christ’s work on the cross has any atoning significance, takes his implications to its logical conclusion (Jamieson, 2019; p. 15). And unfortunately, Varner, like Moffitt, treats the death of Christ like a “first element in a sequence of events” (Moffitt, 2013; p. 294), that eventually culminates in atonement “finally” accomplished when Jesus enters into heaven (Varner, p. 107). And while I somewhat agree, to dismiss the cross as a moment when atonement is also accomplished is concerning. 

Although neither Moffitt, Jamieson, nor Varner come close to the soup of heresies within Socinian theology, any statement that weakens, diminishes, or reduces the central importance of atonement accomplished on the cross, whether explicit or implicit, in ignorance or willfulness, should provoke us to listen with great uneasiness. And though Varner correctly asserts that Christ ascending to the Father to complete atonement is something that should not “diminish” our appreciation of the cross work of Christ (p. 108), his statements concerning “It is Finished” collectively do just that. 

Helpful References

Though it is customary to place references and resources at the end, I placed them here for immediacy, and for some introductory reading before the next section if you are unfamiliar with the discussion. But in order to follow a bit with the review at hand, I would encourage, at the very least, listening to Jamieson’s podcast interview describing his view since Varner recommends it in his book. And so that it is easier to follow along. 

  1. The Epistle to the Hebrews (The New International Greek Testament Commentary) (Ellingworth, 1993; book)
  2. When and Where Did Jesus Offer Himself? A Taxonomy of Recent Scholarship on Hebrews (Jamieson, 2017; online)
  3. Jesus’ Death and Heavenly Offering in Hebrews (Jamieson, 2019; book)
  5. Priesthood and the Logic of the Atonement: A Response to David Moffitt (Kibbe,2012; online)
  6. So Great a Salvation: A Dialogue on the Atonement in Hebrews (Laansma, Guthrie, Westfall, 2019; book)
  7. R. B. Jamieson, “Jesus’ Death and Heavenly Offering in Hebrews (Marshall Poe, 2018; Podcast interview)
  8. Jesus’ Heavenly Sacrifice in Early Christian Reception of Hebrews: A Survey (Moffitt, n.d.; online)
  9. Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Moffitt, 2013; book)
  10. The Letter to the Hebrews (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC) (O’Brien, 2010; book)
  11. Resurrection and Priesthood: Christological Soundings from the Book of Hebrews (Schrock, 2014; online)
  12. Atonement and the Logic of Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Review) (Sequeira, 2014; online)

It is [Almost] Finished (Chapter 12)

Though this is the last section before my final thoughts, I would like to strongly emphasize that I do not deny the necessity of Christ’s resurrection and ascension in order to fulfill or complete atonement (more on this later). It is certainly a play on words to say things like “It is [Almost] Finished,” or as Moffitt puts it “It is not Finished” in order to draw attention to certain temporal elements regarding Christ’s work of atonement. What I am stressing, however, is that while there may be differing emphases on particular aspects of the atonement, there is no reason, at all, to state that Christ’s death, and his cry “It is Finished,” did not accomplish atonement.

In Chapter 12, Varner reemphasizes again what he stated in Chapter 9 by saying:

In our previous discussion of Jesus’ cry “It is Finished” (John 19:30), I suggest that the reference there was to the finishing of the messianic prophecies about Jesus suffering, such as Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. It is my contention that the atonement was begun on the cross and finished in heaven, because the letter of the Hebrews teaches this very truth.” (bold and underline mine)

Varner further reveals how Jesus’ death fulfills the Day of Atonement where the High priest slaughters an animal and carries the blood into the Holy of Holies (p. 107). It was there, when the blood was offered in the presence of God by being sprinkled on the mercy seat, that the atonement was completed, not when the animal was killed (p. 108). Varner excellently, and factually, reveals how Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9:11–12 and 10:12–13 mirror one another, and how it wasn’t until Christ entered into heaven that he secured our eternal redemption (p. 108). He further points out that it was in this “second-stage” of Jesus’ sacrifice that he offered a single sacrifice for sin “in heaven,” and then sat down at the right hand of God. Which, at that moment, was when we can then say, “It is Finished.” 

Although Varner has not explicitly denied penal substitutionary atonement, this kind of language steps on its toes. Not because there isn’t any truth to what he, Moffitt, and Jamieson are observing about the necessity of Christ’s entering into heaven to secure our salvation. But because nothing in Hebrews even remotely contradicts redemption and atonement being just as finished and accomplished in the death of Christ, despite the author’s emphasis on the resurrection and ascension. And as I’ve already pointed out, though Jamieson, like Varner, believes Jesus’ self-offering was when he entered heaven, unlike Varner, Jamieson explicitly believes Jesus’ death atones (Marshal Poe, 2018; min. 31:00). 

What Jamieson Points Out 

If I may have the freedom to teach, it shouldn’t be articulated that atonement began on the cross, and finished in heaven. Rather, it is finished on the cross and further finished in heaven. The cross isn’t a subordinating event that is just a “first element in a sequence of events” (Moffitt, 2013; p. 294). But a coordinating event, whose redeeming efficacy is in conjunction with the resurrection and ascension. And just as Hebrews may emphasize the atoning efficacy of the ascension by our Priestly King, in a few places it does the same with regard to Christ’s death (2:9–18; 9:15–28). And as Jamieson points out, his death is that which Jesus offers (min. 25:00). In other words, his life given in death by means of his blood. And that blood keeps its significance through the resurrected body when Jesus offers/presents himself in heaven. 

Furthermore, Jamieson reveals something that I have always taught. That Hebrews 9:15–17 teaches us that while Jesus was on the cross, he both looks backward and forward (Marshall Poe, 2018; min. 23:00). Backward at the righteous and retributive demands of the law, and by his death, fulfills its requirements, thus redeeming those under its curse (because life must be given in order for there to be reconciliation with God).  And also forward to his ascension and heavenly presentation to the Father, thus further (key word) elaborating and completing what he already accomplished in his death. Jamieson even goes on to say that Jesus’ death is crucial in understanding Hebrews’ overall arguments (Marshall Poe, 2018; min. 29:00). 

(Note: When I look back at Psalm 22:31 when it says “he has done it” in relation to when Jesus said “It is Finished,” this harmonizes perfectly with all of redemption and atonement being in full sight of Jesus (looking backward and forward), even if his resurrection and ascension has yet to occur in the timeline redemptive history.)

Linguistic Considerations 

Although Jamieson’s points nuancingly differ from Varner’s concerning atonement on the cross, Varner’s linguistic points are not without consideration. And though not thoroughly explicated in his book, Varner’s points are justifiable. 

First, in Hebrews 9:12:

“…[Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

οὐδὲ δι᾽ αἵματος τράγων καὶ μόσχων διὰ δὲ τοῦ ἰδίου αἵματος εἰσῆλθεν ἐφάπαξ εἰς τὰ ἅγια αἰωνίαν λύτρωσιν εὑράμενος

Now I posted the Greek here not to show off, but to show why Varner has chosen this verse to make his point. The color-coding shows the translated words. The main verb “entered” (εἰσῆλθεν) is in the aorist tense. And the aorist participle that is its coincident is “thus securing” (εὑράμενος). Without getting all technical, the basic understanding here is that the “securing” or “obtaining” of eternal redemption occurred at the time Jesus “entered” in heaven.

This being the case, while the grammar reveals that when Jesus entered he secured/obtained eternal redemption, this still gives us no reason to presume that atonement wasn’t accomplished on the cross as well. All this does, as Jamieson and I have pointed out already, is reveal that redemption was further accomplished when Jesus entered into heaven. Redemption was indeed secured/obtained when he entered and sat down at the right hand of God. But as Hebrews 9 also reveals, atonement was equally accomplished while on the cross (more about this in Part 4).  

Of course, an in-depth linguistic discussion must be had here. But for expediency, I wish to examine another reference Varner uses to affirm his conclusion(s).

Guthrie’s Commentary 

Varner quotes evangelical scholar Donald Guthrie (p. 108), to point out how “the real effectiveness of the work of Christ is summed up in the words thus securing an eternal redemption.” Guthrie goes on to affirm Varner’s points above how the participle (εὑράμενος; securing) can be understood as “following from and subsequent to the entering.” Guthrie then says, “In this case, the redemption is seen as the direct result of the offering (Tyndale NT Commentary, 15, 189).” (underline mine) Therefore, by Varner’s understanding, Guthrie would have us believe that it could not have been “finished” on earth.

But what offering did Guthrie have in mind? Was it the same heavenly offering that Varner has in mind? Further reading reveals that Guthrie believed in the “efficacy of the offering resting on the shedding of blood” (p. 186) and that the “blood stands symbolically for his death” (p. 188), which is, once again, what he offered while on earth. And because of who Jesus was, without blemish, as both sacrifice and high priest willingly offering himself, he was the “perfect fulfillment of God’s will” being obedient unto death, thus dying without sin to be a “perfect sacrifice on behalf of his people” (p. 189).

This in no way contradicts Guthrie’s previous assertion about Christ’s heavenly presentation securing eternal redemption. But it is to be noted that Guthrie believes that it was Jesus’ death that atonement rests upon, and that redemption accomplished was a direct result of when he offered himself on the cross. But regardless of whether we believe the heavenly offering or bloody sacrifice is in view here, there is no reason to assert that “It is Finished” does not have redemption/atonement accomplished as a necessary conclusion.  


In my Final Thoughts (Part 4), we will look at how the already/not yet language in John gospel (and Scripture) will help us to refrain from making a heavier emphasis in any sequence of Christ’s work of atonement. But what I seek to reiterate here is that while Varner correctly and exegetically demonstrates why Hebrew’s emphasis is on the ascension of Christ in fulfilling and completing the atonement, he incorrectly asserts, on the basis of his observations, that when Jesus said “It is Finished,” atonement was not what he meant. And though Jamieson and Guthrie are referenced, neither of them uses the type of language that Varner does regarding Christ’s atonement on the cross. 

-Until we go home

Please go on to read part 4 for my final thoughts.

Varner, William. Passionate about the Passion Week: A Fresh Look at Jesus’ Last Days. Dallas: Fontes Press, 2020.

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