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Atonement in Luke-Acts Pt. 5

I now come to the final segment of my analysis of Luke’s theology of atonement (

Drinking from the Cup of God and Being Delivered unto the Gentiles

Luke provides further clues that Jesus’ death is substitutionary in nature. Christ and his followers spoke of his being delivered or handed over to the Gentiles or nations, whom the Scriptures identify as sinful or lawless men, e.g., peoples who hadn’t received the Law and/or did not live in obedience to it:

“… But while they were all marveling at everything he did, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men.’” Luke 9:43b-44

“And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon; they will scourge him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise.’” Luke 18:31-33

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.’ And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.” Luke 24:1-9

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Acts 2:22-24

“The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus (edoxasen ton paido autou ‘Iesoun), whom you delivered up to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go.” Acts 3:13

Christ further spoke of the cup which the Father destined for him to partake:

“‘For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, `And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfilment.’ … And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not enter into temptation.’ And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.’” Luke 22:37, 39-42

The foregoing language denotes judgment and punishment since there are several places in the OT where God says that he will deliver or hand his people over to the nations for judgment and make them drink from the cup of his wrath:

“But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another. In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” Psalm 75:7-8

“Therefore the LORD was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance. He handed them over to the nations, and their foes ruled over them.” Psalm 106:40-41

“Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger. Of all the sons she bore there was none to guide her; of all the sons she reared there was none to take her by the hand. These double calamities have come upon you—who can comfort you?—ruin and destruction, famine and sword—who can console you? Your sons have fainted; they lie at the head of every street, like antelope caught in a net. They are filled with the wrath of the LORD and the rebuke of your God. Therefore hear this, you afflicted one, made drunk, but not with wine. This is what your Sovereign LORD says, your God, who defends his people: ‘See, I have taken out of your hand the cup that made you stagger; from that cup, the goblet of my wrath, you will never drink again. I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who said to you, “’Fall prostrate that we may walk over you.” And you made your back like the ground, like a street to be walked over.’” Isaiah 51:17-23

“Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.’ So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it… Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you. And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, “Thus says the LORD of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts.”’” Jeremiah 25:15-17, 27-29

“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.’” Revelation 14:9-11 – cf. 16:1-21; 18:6

The foregoing makes it abundantly clear that Luke has Jesus taking the place of sinners by drinking from the cup of God’s wrath and being handed over to the Gentiles in order to experience the judgment that the unrighteous deserve.

Darkness over the Land

Another way in which Luke highlights the vicarious nature of Christ’s death is in the crucifixion scene where we are told that the whole land became dark as Jesus’ hung on a cross:

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man (houtos dikaios en).”” Luke 23:44-47 NIV

What makes this rather interesting is that the land being covered in complete darkness echoes one of the plagues or judgments that fell upon the Egyptians during the time of Moses:

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.’” Exodus 10:21-23

The following text is truly astonishing:

“‘In that day,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your religious feasts into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shave your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.’” Amos 8:9-10

The reason this citation is so remarkable is that this is precisely what took place during Jesus’ crucifixion, e.g., darkness fell upon the land at noon during one of Israel’s holy festivals, i.e. Passover, as God’s one and only beloved Son,

“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’” Luke 9:35

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” John 1:14, 18

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16-18

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh… He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:3, 32

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Galatians 4:4-6

“to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” Ephesians 1:6-7

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” Colossians 1:13-15

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” 1 John 4:9

In fact, the firstborn Son of both God and Mary,

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

“And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” Hebrews 1:6

Hung on the cross to die!

Anyone familiar with the Hebrew Bible would clearly take this as a sign that God’s judgment was being poured out, and yet poured out upon whom?

Since the judgment didn’t fall upon the people, whether the Israelites or the Romans, then the obvious and only answer is that God’s judgment was being poured out upon his Son!

And since Christ was clearly sinless, and therefore completely righteous in God’s sight,

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” Luke 1:35

“and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’” Luke 3:22

As even the centurion realized, then this couldn’t be for any lawless deeds he had committed. Rather, Christ was absorbing God’s wrath in the place of sinners in order to save them from God’s righteous judgment which all of sinful humanity deserves.

The Overall Testimony of the New Testament

I conclude with the words of the following Christian apologist, who does a fine job of summing up most of the points covered in this series of rebuttals:

Before pointing out a few observations in response, it should be noted that even if the variant that does not contain vss. 19b and 20 is original, the atoning significance of the Last Supper is well-attested elsewhere in the New Testament.  Paul quotes this tradition in I Corinthians 11:23-26. It is also found in Mark 14:22-24 and Matthew 26:26-29. Since a similar passage occurs in Biblical documents (including 2 Gospels) in which the text is not disputed, Muslim polemicists cannot conclude upon text-critical grounds that the doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atoning death is not found in the original New Testament. The only possible recourse I could see for the Muslim with this being the case would be to argue that the “original Gospel” to which the Qur’an alludes and endorses is solely the Gospel of Luke. Of course, even if this could be accomplished and they were somehow to come away with a small victory in this regard, Muslims would still have lost the proverbial war since they would still have to contend with the fact that Luke speaks at great length about Jesus’ predictions of eventual death and subsequent vindication, his passion and crucifixion, subsequent burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the empty tomb, and post-resurrection appearances.

Even if vss. 19b-20 are not authentic, however, it is still likely that Luke accepted the doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atonement. For one, Luke was probably a traveling companion of Paul [see the discussion of the “’we’ passages in Acts” in Hemer 1990; 312-334].  As such, Luke was certainly familiar with the widespread interpretation of the Eucharist as indicating Jesus’ death as a means of atonement for sinners. If he took issue with the doctrine of the atonement, it would have been better to not even narrate the Eucharist in the first place.

Second, Luke’s summary of one of Paul’s sermons in Acts 20:28 may indicate that Christ’s death served as atonement for sin… While this passage does not explicitly spell out atonement theology, it does indicate that Christ’s death was necessary for the genesis of the church. It is probable, though not certain, that here we have an allusion from Luke to the doctrine of Christ’s vicarious atonement…

And so, even if Luke 22:19b-20 is not authentic, we find several indications within Luke/Acts (even if only implicit) that supports the assertion that Luke knew and endorsed Jesus’ atoning death. (New Testament Textual Criticism and the True Significance of the Variants; bold emphasis ours)

See also his excellent post titled, “Did Jesus Predict His Death and Vindication?” (

With the foregoing in view, this should finally put to the rest the desperate attempt by Muslims and liberals alike that Luke does not contain or directly avoids emphasizing the vicarious, sacrificial nature of Christ’s death in the place of sinners in order to bring about their eternal redemption.(1)

Unless noted otherwise, biblical quotations taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Holy Bible.

Further Reading

Introduction to Atonement in Luke-Acts (

  1. The Atonement in Lucan Theology in Recent Discussion (
  2. An Examination of Key Texts in the Discussion (

Conclusion on the Atonement in Luke-Acts (

Bibliography for Atonement in Luke (


(1) This point becomes even stronger when we keep in mind that there are some scholars who are of the view that Hebrews was actually written by Luke on behalf of the Apostle Paul, since the Greek style of the epistle is very similar to the Greek of Luke-Acts. Here is a sampling of verses from this truly remarkable book, which emphasize the substitutionary, atoning death of the Lord Jesus:

“… After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:3b

“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.’ And again, ‘I will put my trust in him.’ And again, ‘Behold, I and the children God has given me.’ Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:9-18

“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” Hebrews 5:8-9

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” Hebrews 7:23-28

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:22-28

“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.”’ When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water… How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:4-22, 29

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured… Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:12-13, 20-21

Even if one were to reject the Lukan authorship of Hebrews, this would still provide corroboration for Luke himself accepting the sacrificial nature and the substitutionary atoning significance of Jesus’ death. After all, it is evident that the inspired writer of Hebrews was from among Paul’s close circle of friends since he mentions the release of Timothy from prison, who was another of Paul’s trusted disciples:

“You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings.” Hebrews 13:23-24

And since we have shown from Acts that Luke was a traveling companion of Paul and a part of Paul’s community of followers, it would be quite a stretch to assume that he did not share or endorse their belief in the vicarious sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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