The Death of Death in the Saving Death of Christ


Good Friday fuels our worship of the triune God as we meditate on what John Owen calls “the death of death in the death of Christ.” Let’s situate Christ’s death among his nine saving events:



The above figure that depicts Christ’s nine saving events is from Robert Peterson’s Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (2012, p. 551). Peterson unpacks these nine events in the first part of his book (pp. 21–269). Here are some Scripture passages he cites to explain each event:

  1. Incarnation (Luke 2:11; Gal 4:4–5; Heb 2:14–15)
  2. Sinless Life (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 5:8–10; 1 Pet 3:18)
  3. Death (Gal 3:13; Heb 10:14)
  4. Resurrection (Rom 4:25; 1 Cor 15:21–22; 1 Pet 1:3)
  5. Ascension (John 14:2–3; Acts 5:31; Heb 9:24)
  6. Session (Col 3:1–3; Heb 1:3; 10:11–12)
  7. Pentecost (John 20:22–23; Acts 1:5)
  8. Intercession (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25)
  9. Second Coming (Matt 25:46; 1 Thess 1:9–10; 1 Pet 1:13)

Peterson makes five insightful observations about these nine events (pp. 550–54):

  1. There are three movements of either descending or ascending. First is a movement from heaven to earth (incarnation, sinless life, death, and resurrection). Second is a movement from earth to heaven (ascension, session, Pentecost, and intercession). Third is a movement from heaven to earth (second coming).
  2. The nine saving events constitute Christ’s one saving work.
  3. Two events are central: death and resurrection.
  4. Two events are essential preconditions to Christ’s death and resurrection: incarnation and sinless life.
  5. Five events result from Christ’s death and resurrection: ascension, session, Pentecost, intercession, and second coming.

Good Friday highlights Christ’s death. Why should Christ’s death fuel our worship?

Our fundamental problem is that we deserve the wrath of God. We deserve God’s wrath because our sins are fundamentally against him. The righteous and holy God must punish sinners unless there is full satisfaction for their sin.

Christ’s glorious solution is legal substitution, propitiation, and justification. The Savior paid our penalty in our place (substitution). The God-man satisfied God’s wrath against us (propitiation). As a result, God removes our guilt (expiation) and righteously righteouses the unrighteous (justification).     (See Isa 53; Mark 10:45; Rom 3:21–26; 4:25; 5:6; 8:32; Gal 3:13; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:17; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 4:10.)

We deserve eternal death, and Christ conquered death in our place. That’s why John Owen calls it “the death of death in the death of Christ.”

In Scripture there are many pictures for Christ’s saving us because there are many pictures for our deep sin problem. These pictures all portray the same reality that Christ saves sinners, and the most central picture is penal substitution.

Here’s how Tom Schreiner defines penal substitution: “The Father, because of his love for human beings, sent his Son (who offered himself willingly and gladly) to satisfy God’s justice, so that Christ took the place of sinners. The punishment and penalty we deserved was laid on Jesus Christ instead of us, so that in the cross both God’s holiness and love are manifested” (“Penal Substitution View,” in The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, p. 67).

The heart of Jesus’s death is that Jesus paid our penalty (penal) in our place (substitution). The death of death in the saving death of Christ happened according to “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). It’s what God’s “hand” and “plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:28). And it is to the praise of God’s glorious grace in Christ.

Andy Naselli, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament

Prayer Requests:

  1. Praise God for the death of death in the death of Christ.
  2. Pray for our school’s faculty, staff, students, supporters, and future students as we process our leadership transition. Pray that we would live like Christian hedonists—that we would hope in God and that like Paul we would be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10).
  3. Praise the Lord with us for his faithfulness and pray that he would provide the remaining funds for our On The Double match.