“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” uttered St. John the Baptizer approximately 2000 years ago (Jn. 1:29). The teaching that Our Lord came to take away sins, and save sinners, is well attested to in Sacred Scripture (cf. Mt. 1:21; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 10:12-14). Unfortunately, few people study this specific aspect of the Catholic faith. The branch of theology concerned with Christ as our Redeemer is called soteriology (Greek: soter), which means “savior, deliverer, or preserver.” Soteriology, which has a direct relationship to Christology (the study of the person of Christ), examines the life, passion, and death of Our Lord, and His continuing work of intercession before the Father in heaven. In this article, we will discuss Christ's work of redemption, and its effect on the human race. Then, we will examine the threefold office that Christ exercises as the Redeemer: the office of prophet, priest, and king.
The redemption itself, as it pertains to the person and work of Christ, can be summed up as follows: man was created in a state of original justice, which he would eventually forfeit through sin (cf. Gen. 3:1-24). This sin, classified as “original sin,” caused a chasm between God and man (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). Now, due to his fallen nature, man was enslaved to the devil, and man’s friendship with God was ruptured. The Lord Jesus Christ, by His death on the cross, paid the price of our redemption, and allowed fallen man to once again have a relationship with his Creator. He did this by His death for us, in expiation for our sins. To enjoy this salvation wrought by Our Savior, we must adhere to Him by faith (cf. Heb. 11:6) and charity (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2). Man must utilize his free will when seeking this wonderful gift of salvation; it is not a forced act. We receive these fruits of the redemption, most directly, by graces obtained through the sacraments of the Catholic Church. That is a very brief sketch of the redemption.
The Holy Bible is filled with many profound statements pertaining to the redemption. One of themost striking is from the prophet Isaiah:
Surely He has born 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 bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed (Is. 53:4-5).
This is a tremendously moving prophecy, fulfilled when Our Lord hung on the cross as His passion was nearing its end (cf. Lk. 23:44-49). We often take Our Lord’s suffering for granted, not realizing the excruciating pain and sorrow our sins caused Him. Often, this is the case in our churches today. Rather than preach “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), we hear limp and sappy sermons such as “God is love.” God certainly is love, but He is also just (cf. Mt. 25:31-46), and will render to everyone according to their works (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). A proper balance between mercy and justice is desperately needed in our day.
The Synoptic Gospels also reveal many concepts relating to the redemption. We read in Matthew 20:28 “ ... the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Mark tells us “And He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant ...’ ”(Mk. 14:24). Luke records our Lord saying “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).
Peter, our first Pope, comments on the redemption when he tells us:
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
The greatest theologian in the early Church, Saint Paul, utters the following words about Our Lord's work of redemption: “They are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus ...” (Rom. 3:24)
Finally, the beloved disciple John, referring to Our Lord and Savior, tells us “Worthy art Thou to take the scroll and to open its seals, for Thou wast slain and by Thy blood didst ransom men for God ...” (Rev. 5:9). The word used in this passage for ransom (Greek: agorazo) can be rendered “to purchase.” This sheds some light on the personal aspect or Our Lord’s work in redeeming us. It reveals the “large payment” of His precious blood which He sacrificed on our behalf. Our redemption did not come cheap. We should praise God daily for His generosity in this merciful act of dying for our sins.
Surveying the Biblical data in the New Testament, and keeping in mind the passages already cited, we can narrow down all the crucial points of Christ's redemption into seven main Biblical themes. These themes are outlined in the “New Catholic Encyclopedia,” under “redemption.”
First, revelation discloses that redemption was achieved by the fact that the Word of God assumed a human nature, and became the mediator between God and men (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6). The epistle to the Hebrews tells us:
Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant (Heb. 9:15). It took a tremendous amount of humility for the God-man to “stoop down to our level” by assuming a human nature, and experiencing many of the trials we experience in daily life. Of course, He accomplished this while forever remaining perfectly sinless (Heb. 4:15)
Second, redemption is accomplished by Christ freely giving His life, as a price of purchase (cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; Tit. 2:14). Paul writes “You were bought with a price ...” (1 Cor. 7:23). For the fact that Christ died, while we were still separated from Him by sin, shows His immeasurable lovingkindness towards us (cf. Eph. 2:4-10).
Third, redemption is affected through the sufferings and death of Christ due to sinners, and their sins (cf. Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2). Writing to the church at Colossae, Paul says:
And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).
One could write a whole devotional commentary on this passage alone; it is an excellent verse
for Lenten meditation. The book of Colossians was written primarily to address Christological
issues, and it is here that Paul gets at the heart of the work of Christ’s redemption.
Fourth, redemption is accomplished through the sacrifice of Christ, offered on the cross
(cf. Rom. 3:25; 1 Cor. 5:7). John writes “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved
us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4: 10). Our Lord gives us some
valuable insight into God's love for us when He says "Greater love has no man than this, that a
man lay down his life for His friends. You are my friends ..." (Jn. l5:13-14).
Fifth, redemption is acquired through Christ's victory over the devil, sin, and death (cf. Col. 2:15;
Rom. 8:3). John writes “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the
devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Satan is successful today because his existence is taken for granted, if
not outright denied. The innocent slaughter of the unborn, due to the approximately 4400
reported abortions performed daily in America, gives proof to this sad fact. As classic Catholic
spiritual direction teaches, we should guard ourselves against the devil, as well as the world and
the flesh (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
Sixth, redemption is attained through the obedience of Christ (cf. Jn. 10:18; 14:31). We read in
the book of Philippians “And being found in human form He humbled Himself, and became
obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Christ has given us the perfect exampleto
follow concerning the virtue of obedience. Regarding obedience, perhaps today’s most neglected
virtue, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches in the “Summa Theologica” that “Man is subject to God
simply as regards all things, both internal and external, wherefore he is bound to obey Him in all
Lastly, redemption is carried out because of Christ's resurrection from the grave, and continues
by His intercession before the Father in heaven (cf. Rom. 4:25; 8:34). Hebrews 7:25 states
“Consequently, He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through Him, since
He always lives to make intercession for them.” It is consoling to know that Our Savior is
praying before the Father for our needs.
These seven themes can be discovered by reading the New Testament. These Biblical truths
often overlap, and are related to each other. One could spend his whole theological career
studying each theme of the redemption, and find that its mysteries will never completely unfold
before one’s finite mind.
A key aspect of the redemption is Christ acting as our “mediator.” This gets at the core of
soteriology, and is central to the study of the redemption. A classic proof-text given by Paul is
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim.
2:5). As used in this passage, the term “mediator” (Greek: mesites), according to the very helpful
“Theological Lexicon Of The New Testament” (p. 468) written by the Dominican scholar Father
Ceslas Spicq, reveals a profound truth:
Not only does this text describe Christ as a mediator, placing him in the middle as an intermediary between God and humans, the sole valid representative of both
parties; but it also specifies that “He gave himself as ransom for all” in order to actualize
the salvation willed by God. Thus he reconciled those whom sin had set at variance.
Briefly stated, in accord with 1 Timothy 2:5, a mediator reconciles two opposing parties at variance. Christ is this mediator; who alone acts as an intermediary between perfect Divinity and sinful mankind. Sin created a huge separation between creature and Creator. The completed work of Christ was the only remedy for this inseparable gulf, which was a result of our transgressions.
Continuing our exegesis, another aspect of the mediatorial work of Christ is the concept that He is the new head of the human race. The first head of the human race was Adam. In the order of nature, all men (including Christ) are descendants from Adam: Luke's genealogy bears witness to this fact (cf. Lk. 3:23-38). The first man was created by God Himself to be its supernatural head of the human race. Adam received the gift of divine sonship; the gift of sanctifying grace. Human nature had no claim to this gift of sanctifying grace; it completely transcends human nature. This was the case for Adam personally, as well as a heritage he would have passed down to his posterity. If Adam had not sinned against God’s divine command (cf. Gen. 2:15-17), every individual man would have had this precious gift of sanctifying grace at the moment of his conception. This is due to the fact that Adam would have passed both human nature, and the supernatural life, to his descendants.
But salvation history tells us that Adam did, in fact, transgress God’s divine command. As a result, the human race perpetually suffers the consequences; we are born with “the stain” of original sin, and continuously suffer from a darkened intellect and weakened will (cf. Rom. 7:7-25); commonly called “concupiscence.” To be healed of original sin, we must be “born again” through baptism (cf. Jn. 3:3-8; Col. 2:12; Tit. 3:5). This sin resulted in a loss of the supernatural life; for Adam and all his descendants.
The remedy for this tragic predicament was the work of redemption by Jesus Christ. Our Lord would reestablish this supernatural life as the new spiritual head of the human race. Paul tells us that “The first Adam became a living being, the last Adam became a life-giving spirit” (1 Cor. 15:45). Christ's headship over the entire human race is revealed to us in phrases such as “ ... we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). In Colossians 1:18 we read “He is the head of the body ...”
Referring to Christ's role as mediator, the theologian Father Matthias Premm said it best when he wrote:
As man, he represented our human position and so by his suffering could expiate and merit for us. But since he is also God, all his works have an infinite value. Because he was God, he was able to offer full and commensurate satisfaction to the Father in heaven for Adam’s sins and the sins of all humanity, and thereby merit the graces we need to reach heaven (“Dogmatic Theology For The Laity,” p. 156).
In reviewing Christ's life as revealed in Sacred Scripture, we see the uninterrupted suffering He experienced, from the manger to the cross. His role as mediator entailed Him to be born in poverty, suffer rejection from His own people, and ultimately, result in a cruel punishment and death at the hands of sinful men.
As A Teacher
As our mediator, Christ would exercise three offices: prophet, priest, and king. Each office gives us an insight into the work and person of Christ Jesus. The first office under discussion is Christ as “prophet.” The theologian Monsignor J. Pohle tells us “Old Testament prophetism was not limited to extraordinary predictions ... but comprised primarily the ordinary teaching office ...” (“Soteriology,” p. 140). Nevertheless, Our Lord also claimed the traditional title and mission of a prophet: “... I must go on my way today ... it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem” (Lk. 13:33). The office of prophet and teacher are connected.
Studying Sacred Scripture, we see Our Lord’s first redemptive act can be considered as one of a teacher. Prior to the start of His public ministry (cf. Mt. 4:12), the world had many incomplete ideas about God. The chosen people of God (the Israelites) did not have the fullness of revelation before Christ began to teach. Christ proved to be the greatest teacher that ever lived. “I am the light of the world” Our Lord proclaimed, “he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12). In our preset day, when people seek happiness in money, sex, drugs, and the New Age movement, these words of Our Lord are comforting.
Our Lord taught the truths of God for approximately three years, preaching throughout a small area in the Middle East. He taught His followers that He was the Bread of Life (cf. Jn. 6:35), the Light of the World (cf. Jn. 8:12), the Gate to the Father (cf. Jn. 10:7), the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn. 10:11), the Resurrection and the Life (cf. Jn. 11:25), and the True Vine (cf. Jn. 15:1).
In addition to revealing saving truth, He promised a visible and hierarchical institution that would teach and safeguard these truths throughout time:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt. 16:18-19).
This church He established, which history testifies as the Catholic Church, is the court of last appeal in matters of faith and morals (cf. Mt. 18:15-18). Paul calls this divine institution the “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). His teachings and His Church have forever changed the face of humanity. None of the false religions or philosophies of our day, no matter how appealing they may be, have had the impact of Christianity, as promulgated by the Catholic Church. For “cradle Catholics,” this is often taken for granted.
That Is Eternal
The next office fulfilled by Our Lord as Redeemer is the office of “priest.” The inspired author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:26). Commenting on this passage, the Jesuit scholar Father Albert Vanhoye tells us:
The ritual requirement that the high priest be separated from men, as already observed, in Christ’s case gave way to an admirable solidarity with man ... Because his consecration was obtained by dying for us, he, nonetheless, belongs to us. Close to God, he remains close to us. He is our high priest. What wonderment we experience in delving into this reality! (“Our Priest Is Christ,” p. 31).
The Gospel accounts of the institution of the Holy Eucharist (cf. Mt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:19-22) are reenacted, in an unbloody manner, at every Mass in our day. This is a continual reminder of Christ's work as the priest extraordinaire. Our Lord is clearly using sacrificial language in the Last Supper accounts; thereby showing the relationship between the first Mass offered in the Upper Room, and His death at Calvary.
Today, we see Christ’s priesthood, in its mediatorial capacity, being carried out by Catholic priests. They apply and distribute the fruits of the redemption, won by Christ, by administering the sacraments such as Baptism, Confession, and the Holy Eucharist. In addition, priests preach God’s truth and give spiritual direction. They are an alter Christus (Latin: another Christ). We should pray daily for our priests, who sacrifice so much for us, and yet are often criticized and unappreciated.
Christ, as our eternal high priest (cf. Heb. 7-10), became for us both “priest” and “victim,” in securing redemption. He merited the grace Adam lost by redeeming us from sin, so as to give us access to the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). This was part of His priestly activity; reconciling sinful men to an all-holy God (cf. Lev. 11:44), and sanctifying mankind through prayer (cf. Jn 17:6-26) and sacrifice (cf. Rom. 6:5-11).
Christ's last office as Redeemer was that of “king.” Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical letter Quas Primas, tells us:
… Christ Himself speaks of His kingly authority: in His last discourse, speaking of the rewards and punishments that will be the eternal lot of the just and of the damned; in His reply to the Roman magistrate, who asked Him publicly whether He were a king or not; after His resurrection, when He gave to His Apostles the mission of teaching and baptizing all nations. On these several occasions, He called Himself king.
Christ's kingship is primarily in the spiritual order (although even secular matters come under His kingly domain, insofar as all civil laws should conform to His natural law). Our Lord declared that His kingship is “not of the world” (Jn. 18:36). His office as king was first and foremost to save souls from suffering eternal damnation. He acted as a king by laying down moral precepts to be obeyed by His followers (servants). This can be seen most clearly in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5:1-7:29). It is noteworthy that even the great apostle Paul refers to himself as a “servant of Christ” ( Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1). To be a servant of Christ “Our King” does not denigrate us, but reveals our total loving dependency on Him (cf. Phil. 4:13). He established His kingdom on earth by choosing apostles (cf. Mk. 13:13-19), and commanding them to teach His truths throughout the whole world (cf. Mt. 28:18-20). This command was given to propagate Christ's three offices as redeemer: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (prophetic office), baptizing them (priestly office) … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded (kingly office) ...”
It is important to reflect on an important truth regarding Christ's kingship; it is one primarily of obedience to Him, and to His laws, as taught by the Catholic Church down through the ages. Today, many want to reduce Our Lord to a “do-gooder;” only interested in “social justice,” who preached “not to judge.” It does well to reflect that Christ taught people to turn from evil and “sin no more” (Jn. 8:11), to obey our Church leaders (cf. Lk. 10:16), all the while preaching that hell is a very real possibility (cf. Mt.25:31-46).
In closing our study on the doctrine of the redemption, we see that Christ acted as a mediator on behalf of God and man. He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, in order to reconcile the human race to our heavenly Father. As a mediator, Christ exercised three offices as prophet, priest, and king. As a prophet He teaches, as priest He sacrifices, as king He rules. For this infinite act of love and mercy, may Our Lord and Savior be exalted forever (cf. Phil. 2:9-11).