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Definite Atonement in Isaiah

Christ did not bear unspecified griefs and sorrows; the transgressions and iniquities for which he was killed were not theoretical. He was stricken for the transgression of a particular people.


God’s Messiah would die an ignominious substitutionary death under the judgment of God as He bore the sins of the elect. By so doing, He would take away the sins of His people:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? —Isaiah 53:4–8

Isaiah taught that Christ would bear and absorb God’s wrath for the sins of God’s people. As a result, He would justify them. In Chapter 53, Isaiah was referring to those for whom Christ would die when he used such terms as our (vv. 4–5), all we (v. 6), us all (v. 6), my people (v. 8), his offspring (v. 10), their (v. 11), the transgressors (v. 12), and many (v. 12). The Messiah was to die for the seed born out of His sacrifice—the elect. James Montgomery Boice argues, “Isaiah 53:6 says that God laid on Jesus ‘the iniquity of us all.’ But it is clear from the verse immediately before this that the ones for whom Jesus bore iniquity are those who have been brought to a state of ‘peace’ with God, that is, those who have been justified (cf. Rom. 5:1). Again, they are those who have been ‘healed’ (v. 5), not those who continue to be spiritually sick or dead.” That is to say, Christ died to redeem the elect of God.

Concerning these verses, Luther writes, “This states the purpose of Christ’s suffering. It was not for Himself and His own sins, but for our sins and griefs. He bore what we should have suffered. . . . These words, OUR, US, FOR US, must be written in letters of gold. He who does not believe this is not a Christian. . . . This is the supreme and chief article of faith, that our sins, placed on Christ, are not ours; again, that the peace is not Christ’s but ours.” The exclusive terms Isaiah uses for God’s elect designate the intent and extent of the atonement. Christ died exclusively for the elect of God, not for the entire world.

—Steve Lawson, Foundations of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2006), 178–179.

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Posted  in: Foundations of Grace · Isaiah · James Montgomery Boice · Martin Luther · Old Testament Gospel · Steve Lawson
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