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New Testament Expressions for the Work of Christ

Michael Hardt

From Truth & Testimony 2012

Recently, I have been impressed with the range of terms used in the New Testament in connection with the work of Christ on the cross. My attention had been drawn to the different expressions used in the gospels for the Lord's going into death. Following this, I looked for other expressions in the New Testament which speak of His work or of what He accomplished in His work on the cross, and began listing them. When the list had grown to around 100 expressions I thought these must be nearly all the terms. But further study led to the discovery of many more. The list is now far too long to be published in this article (standing at 259 different expressions or statements, and growing [1]).

In this article we can only seek to highlight a few of the many wonderful dimensions of the work of Christ that are unlocked by different terms employed for it but we are happy to share the full list, as it stands, with any who might be interested.

Humiliation and Victory

Some of the expressions convey something of the shame and humiliation endured. For example, He was ‘crucified' — a term that is still used as figure of speech today to describe utter humiliation. On the other hand, there are terms that speak of His victory: He annulled death and He annulled the one who had the power of death, and He did so through death (Heb. 2:14).

God's Side and Man's Side

Some terms speak of what God has done: He ‘spared not' His Son (Rom. 8:32), He ‘condemned sin' (Rom. 8:3), and He ‘purchased' the assembly ‘with the blood of his own (Son)' (Acts 20:28). Others speak of what sinful men did: they ‘slew' the originator of life ‘by wicked hands' (Acts 3:15; 2:23).

A Voluntary Act and yet in Perfect Dependence

Again, other expressions emphasise the voluntary nature of the act of Christ's going into death: ‘I lay down my life' (John 10:15). Only He could do this. He had the power, as well as the will, to lay down His life voluntarily. And yet, He did not do so independently, but in harmony with, and in obedience to, His Father: ‘as the Father has commanded me, thus I do' (John 14:31; see also 10:18).

Romans 5:19 states that believers ( ‘the many' ) will be constituted righteous ‘by the obedience of the one' . Christ was, of course, obedient during His entire life on earth but what is referred to here is His obedience in going into death. Only through this ultimate act of obedience could we be ‘constituted righteous' . He was ‘obedient unto death' (Phil. 2:8).

Glories and Blessings won on the Cross

Some terms unlock the significance of that work in relation to the glories Christ gained: He became the ‘author of eternal salvation' (Heb. 5:9), ‘having found an eternal redemption' (Heb. 9:12). Others show the meaning and resulting blessing from this work for us: we have been justified in the power of his blood' and ‘reconciled to God through the death of his Son' (Rom. 5:9, 10) .

The Active Side and the Passive Side

Some expressions are in the passive voice, namely where the Lord is presented as the victim that endured the sufferings: He was ‘made sin' (2 Cor. 5:21) and was ‘offered' up (Heb. 9:28). Others show His active part in the work: He ‘offered himself' up to God, spotless, by the eternal Spirit (Heb. 9:14).


‘When God's plans seemed all confounded' [2] is how one hymn-writer fittingly describes the moment when Christ went into death. He then goes on to say that in this very moment atonement was made. Events did not take God by surprise — they were a fulfilment, in at least four ways:

1) God's counsel : man is fully responsible for his shameful treatment of the Son of God. Yet there are a number of terms in the New Testament that emphasise that what Christ endured on the cross was the fulfilment of God's counsel: ‘to do whatever thy hand and thy counsel had determined before should come to pass' (Acts 4:28).

2) The Scriptures : the work of Christ was also the fulfilment of every prophecy relating to it: ‘all things that are written of the Son of man by the prophets shall be accomplished' (Luke 18:31). What was true of all the prophetic predictions concerning Him, He later states in view of one particular prophecy: ‘for I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned with the lawless' (Luke 22:37). Acts 13:29 seems most comprehensive, speaking not only about the prophets but about ‘all things written concerning him' as being fulfilled. Remarkably, God, in His sovereignty, used wicked enemies (who remain fully responsible for what they did) to fulfil His counsel and the Scriptures.

3) God's glory : just before going into death the Lord exclaimed victoriously ‘It is finished' (John 19:30). The same word is used here: all was fulfilled, everything completed; not only all prophecies and God's counsel but also everything necessary in order for God to be fully glorified. This is the perspective of John's Gospel.

4) His pathway : the cross was also the fulfilment, the completing of His pathway through to the end. So Moses and Elias on the mount of transfiguration spoke of His departure which He was about to ‘accomplish' or fulfil (Luke 9:31). He is the great ‘completer' (or ‘finisher') ‘of faith: who, in view of the joy lying before him, endured the cross' (Heb. 12:2). One Word, many Appositions

1) ‘died'

Then there are sets of verses where the same word is used and yet in connection with different appositions (additional expressions), all showing different aspects or shades of meaning. Take, for instance, the expression ‘died' in the verses below:

•  ‘die' ‘for the people' (and ‘for the nation' ) (John 11:50–52)

•  ‘according to our law he ought to die ' (John 19:7)

•  ‘what death he should die ' (John 18:32; 12:33)

•  ‘Except the grain of wheat falling into the ground die ' (John 12:24)

•  ‘It is Christ who has died ' (Rom. 8:34)

•  died for all ' (2 Cor. 5:14, 15)

•  died for nothing '[3] (Gal. 2:21)

•  died for our sins , according to the scriptures' (1 Cor. 15:3)

•  died for the ungodly ' (Rom. 5:6)

•  died' in view of those ‘who live ' (2 Cor. 5:15)

•  died' for ‘thy brother' (Rom. 14:15)

•  died for us ' (Rom. 5:8)

•  ‘he has died to sin once for all' (Rom. 6:10)

•  died ' ‘to this end' (to rule) (Rom. 14:9)

•  ‘we have died with Christ ' (Rom. 6:8; Col. 2:20)


Indeed, He died: for us, for our sins, for me, for (in view of) all, for the ungodly, for the people (Israel). Only if the falsifications of the gospel were true He would have died ‘for nothing' (or ‘in vain'). And we are identified with Christ in His death: we died with Christ and, therefore, can know deliverance. But it is not only true that He died: consider also ‘what death He should die' . Once we start meditating on these expressions they speak to our hearts and lead us to worship.

2) ‘death'

It was a strange thing indeed for a sinless one to die, so much so that we read He is the one who ‘became dead' (Rev. 1:18; 2:8). And then consider the following expressions that use the word ‘death':

•  ‘reconciled to God through the death of his son ' (Rom. 5:10)

•  ‘obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross ' (Phil. 2:8)

•  ‘ye announce the death of the Lord ' (1 Cor. 11:26)

•  ‘the pains of death ' (Acts 2:24)

•  taste death for every thing' (Heb. 2:9)

•  what death he was about to die' (John 12:33)


Whereas the expressions ‘death of his son' and ‘death of the Lord' emphasise the dignity of the one who went into death, the ‘death of the cross' brings out all the shame connected with it. Our blessed Lord endured the ‘pains of death' . What must it have been for Him to ‘taste death' !

3) ‘glorified'

Or take the word ‘glorified', which means that the excellent features of the person concerned are brought into display. At the cross, the Son of man was glorified (John 13:31) — His dependence and obedience, all His moral beauty becoming fully visible (He was fully dependent and obedient throughout His entire life but on the cross the deepest and ultimate proof was furnished). Also, God was glorified (John 13:31) as such, vindicated in all His righteousness and glory; and the Father was glorified (John 12:28; 17:4), His heart of love revealed.

Spirit, Soul, and Body

Among the terms used to speak of the sufferings of Christ and His work on the cross, some mention His spirit ( ‘he delivered up his spirit' (John 19:30)), others how His soul was troubled ( ‘Now is my soul troubled … But on account of this have I come to this hour' (John 12:27)) and others present to us the importance of His body ( ‘the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all' (Heb. 10:10)).

Different Words in the Original

A little further study will show that, in some instances, different expressions are used in the Greek original as, for instance, in the case of the word ‘slain': He was ‘slain' in the sense of being killed by wicked hands ( anaireo , Acts 2:23), but when He is described as the lamb that was slain (Rev. 5:6, 9, 12; 13:8) a different word is used ( sphazo , slaughter).

We noticed above that His work was a ‘fulfilment'. Again, two different words are used. Luke 18:31 and 22:37, John 19:30 and other verses use the word teleo which means ‘to complete, accomplish, make an end'. But Scripture uses a different word in Luke 9:31 in speaking of ‘his departure which he was about to accomplish'. This word is derived from an expression which means ‘replete' or ‘full'.

Two different words are translated as ‘crucified': the common one that is derived from the word ‘cross' and then a word that occurs only once in the New Testament and means ‘nailed' or ‘fastened' to the cross: ‘him … ye, by the hand of lawless men, have crucified' (Acts 2:23). This shows the audacity as well as the folly of man in committing this act.

Space forbids enlargement of this study but the interested reader will find that, similarly, there are at least two expressions for the following: ‘redeemed', ‘ransom', ‘purification', ‘propitiation', and the Lord's ‘dismissing' of His spirit. In each case, consideration of the different shades of meaning will help us grow in our appreciation of what Christ has done. Even the prepositions matter: He gave His life ‘for ( anti , in the place of) many' (Matt. 20:28), but He gave His life ‘for ( hyper , in view of) all' (1 Tim. 2:6).

Same Word in the Original

On the other hand, there are instances where the same Greek word is rendered in different ways in our English translations. To consider one example, it says in Ephesians 2:14 that He has ‘broken down' the middle wall of partition. The same word is used in 1 John 3:8 where it says that He was manifested to ‘undo' or ‘destroy' the works of the devil. Christ has accomplished both: He has undone that which during the time of the law separated the Gentiles from God's people, forming both, Jews and Gentiles, into one new man, but He has also undone the works of the devil. A suitable concordance or computer programme, like e-sword, [4] will lead to other discoveries along this line.

Echoes in Glory and Blessing

Finally, there are a number of expressions that are used in connection with the Lord's work on the cross as well as in connection with the glory that followed and the blessings He secured.

Take the word ‘destroy' . The Lord had said ‘Destroy this temple …' (John 2:19). As far as their responsibility is concerned, this is what they did: they killed the Lord, the one in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. But in this very death, Christ ‘destroyed' the middle wall and the works of the devil (see above).

A second example is the word ‘killed' . In Mark 8:31 we read ‘the Son of man must … be killed' . Here the word describes the most terrible crime ever. But God is pleased to use the same word in Ephesians 2:16 to describe a wonderful result of the work of Christ: He has ‘slain' the enmity.

Or take the expression ‘lifted up' : ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, thus must the Son of man be lifted up' (John 3:14; see also 8:28; 12:32, 34). The picture is that of Christ made sin, lifted up on the tree, like the serpent. What a sight! But then the Holy Spirit uses the same term to speak of Christ exalted : ‘Him has God exalted by his right hand as leader and saviour' (Acts 5:31).

He had to ‘lay down' His life (John 10:15), but God will lay down' [5] His enemies as His footstool (Luke 20:43). He had to ‘taste death' (Heb. 2:9), but we have ‘tasted that the Lord is good' (1 Pet. 2:3). Wonderful results of Christ's work!

Then there are links between His work and our response to Him where, again, the same word is used (in the original):

•  He ‘offered up himself' (Heb. 7:27) to ‘bear' (same word) ‘the sins of many' (Heb. 9:28); our privilege is to ‘offer' the sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15).

•  He has ‘redeemed' (Gal 3:13) those that were under the law; our privilege is to ‘redeem' the time (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:5) in serving and living for Him.


This brief consideration of a few of the terms used in the New Testament to describe the work of Christ on the cross seeks to encourage us to ponder prayerfully each expression and to ask what exactly the Spirit desires to convey by it. The occupation with Christ's work will be priestly food. It furnishes us with material for worship so that we will be able to say: ‘My heart is welling forth with a good matter … My tongue is the pen of a ready writer' (Ps. 45:1).

What depth and variety is contained in the careful choice of the terms used by the Holy Spirit to convey what it meant when Christ suffered and died! And this is only a selection and only from the New Testament. Many more and striking expressions will be found in the Old: He poured out his soul into death , was bruised for our iniquities , the sword had to awake against Him, and many more. In addition, there are the many types and pictures used to illustrate further what happened on the cross.

And even if all the expressions, pictures and types were to be collected and all the computers of the world were to search all comments ever made on them, we would still not be able to comprehend all that is implied. We are left with the reaction of the 24 elders when they had contemplated the Lamb as slain and ‘fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever' (Rev. 5:14).

Michael Hardt


[1] At the time of uploading (December 2013) the alphabetic list of expressions used for the work of Christ has grown to 301 expressions. There is also a list of expressions ordered by Scripture reference.

[2] W Kelly, Spiritual Songs hymn 478.

[3] This is a hypothetical statement. If righteousness is by law, then Christ has died for nothing (or ‘in vain').


[5] Translated ‘put' (JND) and ‘make' (AV), but it is the same word as ‘lay down' in John 10:17.