N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
Rom 5:6-10, Part 2
(Rom. 5:6-10 ESV) 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Wright makes a very different but very helpful point from this passage —
The “coming anger” (or “wrath”) of God was mentioned by Paul as the primary threat hanging over the human race in 1:18. This was reaffirmed in 2:5 (“You are building up a store of anger for yourself on the day of anger, the day when God’s just judgment will be unveiled”). Most people, reading 3:24–26, have assumed and then tried to demonstrate that Paul is saying that this “wrath” falls on Jesus instead of on his people, that God put Jesus forth as a “propitiation,” a means of turning away wrath. That is the position I have myself taken in commentaries and books. But there is a problem with this reading. Here, in Romans 5:9, Paul refers back to “being justified by his blood,” which is a clear summary of 3:21–26, and then says that as a result of this “justification” believers will be saved by Jesus from the wrath or anger that is still to come. This doesn’t seem to fit. If the wrath had been dealt with in 3:24–26 — in other words, through Jesus’s death, appropriated in present “justification”— then why would Paul speak of it in chapter 5 as still future? The answer, I think, is given in 8:1–4, to which we shall shortly come.
Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 4395-4403). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
The future tense of Rom 5:9 implies that God’s wrath is in the future, that is, at the Second Coming.
This conclusion is borne out by two additional considerations. First, we have already noted, on the basis of Romans 5:9, that Paul does not intend this passage as a statement of how the punishment deserved by sinners— the “wrath” of 1: 18– 2: 16— was meted out on Jesus instead. In 5:9, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 and 5:9, the “wrath” is still in the future, and those in the Messiah will indeed be rescued from it; but what is going on in 3:21–26 is “in the present time” (note “but now” in v. 21 and “in the present time” in v. 26).
When Paul speaks in 5:9 of being “declared to be in the right by his blood,” he is indicating the prerequisite for “being saved from wrath,” not the idea that such a rescue has already taken place. When he looks ahead to the future day in 8:3–4, he speaks of God’s condemning sin in the Messiah’s flesh, so that there is “no condemnation.” That is speaking of the final day of judgment. This penal substitution, framed carefully as we saw by Paul by the long story of Israel and the strange work of the law, is the truth toward which, I believe, the “propitiation” readings of 3:24–26 are straining. But reading it back into the present passage distorts both the passage and the doctrine.
Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 5288-5297). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In other words, if we adopt the PSA (penal substitutionary atonement) theory that Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us on the cross, how can it be that Rom 5:9 says we’ll be rescued in the future — when Jesus returns?
The “condemnation” of Rom 8:1-2 is the condemnation that happens to the damned at the Second Coming. That wrath has not yet been fully vented. It’s yet to come, and therefore Jesus hasn’t already suffered it for us. And therefore PSA is — at the least — an incomplete theory.
The fact is that membership in the covenant community — marked out by faith in/trust in/faithfulness to Jesus — rescues us from the coming wrath much as the blood of the Passover lamb rescued Israel from the death angel. The blood of Christ, our Passover lamb, marks us as people of faith, members of the faith community, and thus saved from wrath.
It just occurred to me as I typed the preceding paragraph that Jesus as Passover lamb — a very common metaphor in the NT — never quite made sense to me because I saw God’s wrath as coming at the cross. But if I see it coming when the damned are purged by fire at the Second Coming, then it makes perfect sense that the blood of Christ serves to mark God’s people as saved/rescued from God’s wrath in just the same way that the blood of the Passover lamb did many thousands of years ago.