Preface to Online Edition/ Preface to First Edition

Preface to Online Edition

Since the publication of Part One of ‘The Biblical Revelation of the Cross’ in 2006, I have felt the need to make a general revision that includes additions to the text of chapters 1, 2 and 3, and to make a major revision to the original text and views expressed in Chapter 2, under the sub-headings: ‘The Day of Atonement’ and ‘Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ’. An explanation for these changes follows. Further chapters have been added in what is now Part Two: The Early Church. The Addenda now contains a section entitled: ‘Penal Substitution – Answering the Advocates.’

The additions occur under the following sub-headings and headings:


Chapter 1

Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!


‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us’ (2 Cor.5:21, NKJ, Note on translations)

‘When He cried to Him He heard’: ‘Note on Rom.15:3′

Chapter 2

The Day of Atonement :

Reflections from writings of early Church fathers

‘Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ’ (Mat.27:17, NIV)

Chapter 3

‘He bore the sin of many’: Note

‘When You make His soul an offering for sin’: Note on Jewish and English translations of Isaiah 53

Part Two: The Early Church

Chapter 8

Irenaeus and the Recapitulation of Christ

Chapter 9

Atonement in Athanasius of Alexandria

Chapter 10

‘Heal My soul’?: Eusebius of Caesarea – A Commentary on the Atonement ‘The Demonstration of the Gospel’; Psalm 41:4, KJV

Chapter 11

The Nature of Man’s Creation and the Consequence of the Fall

Chapter 12

In Him We Have Redemption: The Witness from Scripture and the Early Church


Penal Substitution – Answering the Advocates (click for topics list)

As often is the case, after publication of a work, one’s understanding develops and grows with further study and reflection, so it is now. Essentially, however, the book remains a Bible Study, which is how it was conceived. Since 1982, the atonement has been the foremost subject of my meditation. By the year 2000, I had enough material to begin writing a book – and this book just evolved slowly during my time in Beijing, China, where I was resident. Before that, I was living in Tripoli, Libya – for nine years. In Tripoli, I had become very involved with the expatriate Union Church and served on the board and spoke occasionally as a preacher. During my period out of the UK, I never concerned myself with matters that were affecting Christians at home. Only after publication did I learn that a rather heated debate had ensued in the UK as a result of the publication of a book by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann: The Lost Message of Jesus. My arrangements for the publication of my book were made while I was in Beijing – and I was oblivious to the controversy raging over the presumed criticism of the teaching of penal substitution as an explanation for the death of our Lord. At the time, I had not even heard of Steve Chalke or Alan Mann – but my book did draw some interest from people still concerned with the debate and perhaps presuming that my book was written in response. It wasn’t. My conclusions were reached independently and from an intentional reliance on Scripture as the governing authority.

The change of view expressed in Chapter 2 stems from my reading of early Church writings with respect to the goat chosen in ancient times by lot for ‘Azazel’ on the Jewish feast day called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). I came to realize that my position had to be revised – hence the change, and the subsequent change with regard to the view expressed in the section concerning Barabbas. However, as stated in one of the notes, I recognize that the changes do not detract from the overall message of the book. In fact, quite the opposite, as Justin remarked (c.AD 150): ‘No curse lies on the Christ of God.’ Though cursed, rejected and regarded as sin by man, He was received as the Lamb without blemish by God. His victory over sin was our victory also, if we are in Christ.

The original preface remains unchanged and it is hoped to be helpful as an introduction.

Norman McIlwain

January, 2009

(updated March, 2010)

God has made man, and willed that he should abide in incorruption

(Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 4:4, A. Robertson, P. Schaff, 1891).

Preface to First Edition

In considering the cross, we can take either a negative or a positive point of view, depending on our doctrinal heritage and interpretation of Scripture. The Bible clearly states these two perspectives: one from the position of the world and the other from the position of God. We can take the view that Jesus at the cross had become the embodiment of sin and all that is morally detestable—as He was viewed by those who killed Him; or, we can take the opposite point of view and see Jesus crucified as He was judged by the One who raised Him from the dead—as the embodiment of righteousness.

Today, most Christians are still adhering to tenets that originated in an age of bigotry, injustice and intolerance. It was a sorrowful time when many church leaders and pillars of reform advocated tyrannical oppression of all who were deemed heretics or religious opponents. Consider, for example, the notorious tortures and executions inflicted by Roman Catholics and Protestants for heresy during periods of religious conflict. The Inquisition of Rome has been well documented; however, the execution by drowning of Baptists in Calvin’s Geneva; the list of heresies punishable by death drawn up by the English reformer Cranmer (1550); and, sadly, the anti-Semitism of the much esteemed German reformer of the 16th century Martin Luther, might not be so well known.

Towards the end of his life, Luther released a volley of verbal assaults against the Jews. He preached that the age-long sufferings of the Jews proved God’s hatred of them; that they were insolent in their usurious prosperity; that the Jewish ‘Talmud’ sanctioned the deception, murder, robbery and killing of Christians; that they poisoned springs and wells; and that they murdered Christian children to use their blood in Jewish rituals. He advised the Germans to burn down the homes of Jews, to close their synagogues and schools, to confiscate their wealth, to conscript their men and women into forced labour; and wrote, ‘All Jews should be given the choice between either accepting Christ, or having their tongues torn out’ (Concerning the Jews and their lies, 1542). As the renowned historian Will Durant noted (The Age of Faith), such pronouncements set the tone in Germany for hundreds of years—having the height of their fruition during the holocaust.

Much has been swept under the ‘Christian’ carpet that needs to be revealed. Many of the religious authorities and reformers of those days advocated policies which ran counter to the Gospel of love and true justice. Mercy, so central to the Gospel message, had become overshadowed by a negative understanding of the cross of Christ that saw no place for repentance and forgiveness in the justice of God, only punishment by death for sins. The positive view of ‘Christ crucified’ sees the atonement as God’s provision of righteousness for us through the One who embodied righteousness at the cross. He is the Holy and Righteous One who offered Himself unblemished to God, through the eternal Spirit, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice for the sake of all who truly believe. He ‘submitted Himself to the One who judges righteously’ and not to the justice of man, receiving from God the justice of the resurrection—being raised to heavenly glory. This is the Gospel that needs to be preached.

The Biblical Revelation of the Cross’ is a study of the Bible that aims to explain the Gospel of Christ and the apostles as it was known to the first Christians, relying entirely upon the authority of the Holy Scriptures to present the biblical viewthe positive view of the atonement. Keep an open mind, yet be like the Bereans who were praised by the Apostle Paul for zealously checking the Scriptures to see if what he said was true (Acts 17:11).

Norman McIlwain