The sacrifice of Jesus

I talked to an atheist about the sacrifice of Jesus. While I explained it I used the following example: “Imagine a murderer comes before the judge. He´s guilty. That´s proven. But the judge says: I let you go. Is this a loving and just judge? Did the family get justice? Is it loving to just let him go.”

I think the example might be flawed. Because it also talks about that the family gets justice. And here comes the “problem”. The next quesion was: “Using your analogy of the judge, it would be like that judge saying, well i love u so much that i will take your death sentence and pay it myself so you can go free. Did the family get justice then?”

2 Corinthians 5:21 says:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

If the murderer is righteous before God than he´s automatically righteous before us I think. Is that a correct conclusion? And how would you explain that to an atheist?


Hi @Maike_Stein,

That’s not too bad of an analogy. You did well. Most importantly, you are living out Christ in your life for your atheist friend to see. But for your final question: a guilty sinner cannot take the place of another sinner. It has to be someone who was blameless and not guilty of sin, who can substitute for us. That’s how I would explain simply what Jesus did.

FYI, there are plenty of similar sounding analogies about Jesus’ sacrifice. One I like particularly, that I learnt a long time ago from an evangelism seminar is the story about of the General of a guerilla army.

Because they were engaged in a guerrila warfare, they have to ration their food supplies to all the soldiers and civilians who were amongst them while hiding from their enemy. And to prevent anyone from stealing the food rations, the General decreed a punishment of a 100 public caning for anyone caught stealing.

One day, one of the guards of the food supply reported to him a good news. They have just caught a food thief red-handed in the warehouse. This thief has been responsible for the missing rations of a few weeks.

“Good,” says the General, “Prepare for the public punishment the very next morning, and everyone’s attendance is compulsory.”

But the bad news is the thief is his senile and sickly grandmother, who is also very very old of age. This troubles the General for the whole night.

The very next morning, everyone was gathered, and they argued among themselves. If the general were to punish his own frail grandmother, then he is not loving, and a heartless person who is not worth their loyalty. Another argues that if he doesn’t punish his own grandmother then he is not a just and fair man, one they cannot continue to follow.

But at the General’s order, the punishment will still take place, and he walked towards his grandmother and freed her and took off his own shirt and robe, and ordered the guards to lash his bare back instead.

Somehow this story stuck with me and it has been mighty useful so far. Would love to hear other analogies to best explain Jesus’ sacrifice.

Hope it helps, blessings.


Hi, @Maike_Stein! Like Roy, I also like the analogy you gave. (I also love Roy’s analogy). However, I think where the analogy and the act of Christ on behalf of sinners diverge is in assuming that there is an innocent party that is deserving of something owed to them. When we stand before God, “‘There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one’” (Romans 3:10-12, New King James Version). In this scenario, the family and the murderer are in the same boat in regard to their standing with God and are deserving of His wrath. The murderer and the family are both saved from that by God’s grace, so neither has the right to judge what is righteous and what is not by their own sense of morality. The family’s righteousness cannot give life or bring restoration.

I don’t have my thoughts completely worked out on this, because I think I’m taking a different train of thought. I also do not think there is a simple, straightforward explanation that could be given to an atheist. I think before we can enter into attempting to converse about that, there are some things that need to be understood better. Just some thoughts I have below as I think on it:

I think maybe the story from Matthew 18:21-35 might help with the explanation some, because it points out our tendency to pass judgment on others while thinking ourselves deserving of mercy and grace.

We as human beings tend to judge everything according to moralistic systems that rank offenses by how awful we think they are. But God ranks sin/offenses against Him differently. God ranks sin according to the separation from Him that it causes, and all sin–no matter how great or small in our own eyes–causes that separation and therefore carries the same penalty: death. So God is not only the judge, but He is also the victim. This changes the situation and the perspective of righteousness a bit. First, this makes the offense ultimately again Him through which the family feels the repercussions. Also, to say to an atheist that the murderer is righteous before God and therefore righteous before us would mean something very different to the atheist than it does us, I think. Jesus did not come to make bad people good (but that is where the atheist’s mind would most likely go); Jesus came to make dead people alive (CS Lewis). When we judge righteousness on a spectrum of bad and good, we can all point fingers and condemn while turning a blind eye to the wickedness that resides in our own hearts. But when we judge righteousness by Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, we are brought face to face with our own guilt so that we stand unable to condemn any other person.

I once talked about this with my cousin who is an atheist. He stated that he believes people should have to pay for their own wrongs and make it right themselves. But I pointed out that, while in some cases that may be attainable with other human beings, because of God’s perfectly good and holy standard and requirement, no person could ever do what was required. So if it wasn’t for Christ, all of humanity would stand condemned and would be completely destroyed. I was surprised when he understood this to an extent. I expected some push-back.

I know this isn’t a straightforward response, but hopefully there is something here that helps get the gears turning :slight_smile:


Thank you for your reply.

I completely agree with you here. The family isn´t in the position to demand since they are sinners themselves. And they don´t have “the right to judge what is righteous and what is not by their own sense of morality”

The second one is what I meant when I said: If the murderer is righteous before God than he´s automatically righteous before us. Of course we are not his judges. That´s God´s judgment. When I wrote this sentence I thought if an enemy of mine would come to Christ I would really be happy. I personally don´t have enemies that physically harmed me or my family. But I heard a story of a Christian who was nearly beaten to death by Muslim classmates because of his Christian faith. They left him half death and blind. He then prayed for I think one of the classmates (perhaps the leader I´m not sure anymore). Years laters I think he was in a church a man who became a Christian came to him and talked about how he came to Christ and said when he was a muslim he had beaten up a Christan kid. They then regocnized each other. And the Christan I think was happy that the other one came to Christ. So that´s not what always happens because Christians still are humans. I just think that the Holy Spirit leads us to even love our enemies. Something that isn´t in the human nature at all.
So it seems to me that the Holy Spirit gives us the right sense of morality.

Thanks for pointing out this story. It clarifies why we should forgive.

I agree with you here. Like you said for the atheist it means something completely different. I can almost predict an hostile answer if I try to explain that.

Thank you again for your reply. It sure is helpful. :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

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Thank you for your answer. I think the hard part of answering this question to an atheist (at least the one I am talking to) is that he doesn´t want to have an answer to this.

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I’m glad I could be of help in some small way :slight_smile:. A lot of what I wrote was me thinking through it myself :thinking:-ha

I think trying to picture a human judge, even when he’s supposed to be analogous to God, allowing a murderer to go free while the family stands by and watches would put a bitter taste in the mouth. I think it might be hard for an atheist to completely take on the analogy and think, Well, the guy still needs punishment. And he’s right and that’s why God gave the government–to punish evil. So maybe that would be a better starting point? Just one last thought that I had.

I do pray that your atheist friend remains open to conversation–even if he seems a little resistant, and I pray that God blesses that interaction.

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