The Peculiar Justice of the Cross

  • March 2018 Issue
Theology Matters

Justice is one recurring theme of the Minor Prophets, reaching a peak with the question and answer of Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” The Hebrew idea of justice is related to judgment and to governing, not merely an ideal but rather a matter of practice.

According to Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke, justice is what happens when one who is in a socially superior position steps in on behalf of one who is weaker in order to deliver her from an oppressor. Although justice is not exclusively the domain of those who govern, it is especially their concern.

Ultimately, justice is God’s prerogative. He is the “judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25). His righteousness is the standard that defines what acts should be deemed just or unjust. Those who exercise justice in the human sphere are expected to act on God’s behalf and use His standard as the basis for their judgments (Rom. 13:1–5; 1 Peter 2:13–15). This connection between justice, judgment, and God’s righteousness helps us understand why Romans 3:26 describes the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross as a demonstration of God’s justice or righteousness.

By sending His Son to die on our behalf, God stepped in to deliver those who were too weak to deliver themselves. But the justice of the cross is also unique. God is both the aggrieved party and the One who takes the punishment for injustice. God is socially superior, as the Creator and ruler over all. He is also morally superior; He set the standard of righteousness, and we violated it. Therefore, God is both the One who is just and the One who justifies.

When God sent His Son to die on our behalf, Jesus Christ took on Himself the penalty that rightly belonged to us. In this way, God rescued us from the oppression of sin and gave us His own righteousness as a gift. This is the peculiar justice of the cross. It is God meeting His own righteous demands through the person and work of God the Son, Jesus Christ. Without the peculiar justice of the cross, any attempt to “do justice” is empty moralism. Jesus is the heart of justice.

For further study

To learn more, read Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller (Riverhead).

BY Dr. John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

Dr. John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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