A Case for Luke and Atonement

March 15, 2012 — 2 Comments

Luke’s view of Christ’s death is controversial today. Though there is little doubt that Luke finds significance in the crucifixion, a question arises in weather or not he teaches that it satisfies God’s punishment for sin.

The issue becomes clearest when comparing Luke and Mark. Luke follows Mark’s gospel with near verbatim agreement but at 22:27 he declines to follow Mark 10:45 in saying that Jesus came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” This has led some to read another meaning than the vicarious atonement found elsewhere in the New Testament.

It is not my intention to rehash all the issues here (You can find excellent overviews here and here). Instead I want to suggest an entirely overlooked way through the maze. Jesus as a victorious Adam.

Luke Presents Jesus as a New Adam

This is beyond a doubt the intention of Luke’s genealogy. Instead of beginning with Abraham and working forward to Jesus as Matthew’s does, Luke begins with Jesus and works backwards to Adam. The net effect makes Luke’s genealogy a list of sons rather than a list of fathers and emphasizes Adam rather than Jesus. Of course Luke’s intention is not to diminish Jesus. Instead he reveals how Adam, like Jesus, is also “the son of God.”

Luke’s seemingly odd placement of the family tree outside the nativity lends weight to this comparison. The list is bookended by statements concerning Jesus’ sonship. In the baptism God declares Jesus to be His son, and in the temptations Satan challenges “if you are the Son of God…” Both Jesus and Adam are God’s son.

Luke Depicts Jesus Tempted Like Adam

Jesus temptation follows after Adam’s name. If Luke intends to present Jesus as the second “son of God” as I have suggested, then the temptations could not have been better placed. But Jesus’ success here is merely the beginning of a battle that will continue in the later part of Luke. Luke tells us that the devil left him until an “opportune time.” Satan finds such opportunity at the beginning of the crucifixion plot, entering into Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3).

This suggests that the events surrounding the crucifixion are themselves a continuation of the temptation. Certainly there are echoes of the devil’s challenge at the trial when they ask “Are you the Son of God…” It’s Jesus bold affirmative to this question which becomes the hinge on which His condemnation comes. As with the other gospels Jesus confession is juxtaposed with Peter’s denial. If Peter’s denial is due as Luke tells us to the sifting of Satan (22:31-32) then there is little doubt that Satan is here present in this challenge to Jesus.

Luke Portrays Jesus Undoing the Curse of Adam

Much has been made about Luke’s version of the centurions confession. In Mark the centurion declares “Truly this man was the Son of God!” but in Luke he says “Surely this man was innocent!” Owing to the fact that Luke has already declared Jesus to be the Son of God, it is doubtful that Luke is here shying away from this fact. Instead it appears that the verdict of innocence is indeed what Luke emphasizes.

For Luke, however, this verdict of innocence is more than a reference to the crime for which Jesus has been charged. It is Jesus victory over all temptation which is more likely in mind. What Christ has done in this victory is reopen the way closed by Adam. Jesus final words to the thief on the Christ are connected to Luke’s Adam motif. Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It this word that the Septuagint and the book of Revelation use in reference to the garden of Eden.

Several of these points have been noted by others (here and here) but no one that I’ve found looks to Luke’s Adam motif as the key to understanding Christ’s death on the cross. Does Luke teach that the crucifixion of Jesus satisfies God’s punishment for sin? Absolutely. Jesus is the victorious Son of God who’s innocent death reverses the curse of Adam.

Matthew Scott Miller

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