When we as evangelicals speak of the essence of the atonement most of us think of the cross.  J.I. Packer says regarding the essence of the atonement…

“How then did the cross actually redeem us, through Jesus’ death? By reconciling us to God, ending the alienation and estrangement that were previously there, linking God and us together in new harmony, replacing enmity between us with friendship and peace, by means of the putting away of our sins”¹

Wait a minute what’s missing here? Resurrection. If anything is the essence of the atonement it’s the resurrection. The cross did not reconcile us to God without the empty tomb. The blood placed on the mercy-seat in the OT meant nothing without Gods presence. Two things (heaven and earth) are not made one if we show up and He doesn’t. We are no where near at-one-ment with God without the resurrection and ascension. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:13-17

13 “…if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

I would argue as Paul is that there is really no atonement unless Christ is raised. Any idea of union with God through propitiation alone is not complete. Penal Substitutionary Atonement doesn’t save us all by its lonesome. Its like saying I’ve won the lotto but lost my ticket. I might have won the lotto but with no ticket I will never experience the purpose of winning the Lotto. Any talk of atonement without resurrection is as silly as telling people that you won the lotto but lost your ticket. The first question I have for anyone trying to arrive at union (atonement) with God through the cross alone is really? How are you going to get there? You have a nice story but where’s the money? Consider the Heidelberg Catechism

Q: “How does Christ’s resurrection benefit us?”

A:“First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, so that he might make us share in the righteousness he won for us by his death. Second, by his power we too are already now resurrected to a new life. Third, Christ’s resurrection is a guarantee of our glorious resurrection.”

If we want to talk about any kind of reconciliation, union or oneness with God we must remember the ticket. The resurrection without it all we have is a good story with a sad ending. Any talk of the benefits of atonement in the NT presuppose resurrection and this is the danger of systematic theology concerning atonement talk. It seems to divide things up with proof texts that should not be used to divided anything. Of course I am not anti cross theology I believe that the atonement includes the cross but I am just careful anymore to separate atonement conversation from resurrection so that I might avoid it becoming some kind of side dish.


(I think my ticket metaphor is week in the sense that one cannot experince the resurrection life unless one first goes through the way of the cross. In this sense the cross is a ticket so to speak because without it there is no newness of life)Jesus-Resurrection-Pictures-13


¹ Packer, J.I. & Dever, Mark. In My place Condemned He Stood. crossway, 2007