As Easter approaches, many are going to be reminded of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the central event of Christianity, yet very few truly understand how salvation was effected by this. Many are taught that our sins are transferred to Jesus on the cross, and that by this act Jesus removed the "penalty of sin." I heard that phrase mentioned again recently, but here is the fact: nowhere in scripture does it teach that Jesus removed the penalty of sin on the cross. So what happened? Is there a rational explanation for Christianity? Why did God need to become incarnate in human form? What is the meaning of the cross and resurrection? Why was this necessary for salvation?
THE SPIRITUAL MEANING OF THE CROSS
In the gospels, the cross was an extreme form of torture, signifying how the Jews had completely rejected and profaned the Divine truth. In later times, men started to apply false theological meanings to the cross, where today the suffering of the cross is seen as a means of salvation. But this is an apparent truth. The spiritual truth is much deeper.
"It is a common belief at this day that the burnt offerings and sacrifices signified the Lord's passion, and that by this the Lord made expiation for the iniquities of all, indeed, that He drew them away upon Himself, and thus bore them; and that those who believe are in this manner justified and saved, provided they think, though but in the last hour before death, that the Lord suffered for them, however they may have lived during the whole course of their life. But the case is not really so: the passion of the cross was the extremity of the Lord's temptation, by which He fully united His Human to His Divine and His Divine to His Human, and thus glorified Himself. That union is itself the means by which those who have the faith in Him which is the faith of charity, can be saved. For the Supreme Divine Itself could no longer reach to the human race, which had removed itself so far from the celestial things of love and the spiritual things of faith, that they no longer even acknowledged them, and still less perceived them. In order therefore that the Supreme Divine might be able to come down to man who was such, the Lord came into the world and united His Human to the Divine in Himself; which union could not be effected otherwise than by the most grievous combats of temptations and by victories, and at length by the last, which was that of the cross." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 2776.2)In other words, no sins are transferred at the cross. This is a later theological invention, which first became prominent in the Catholic Church, and from the Catholic Church the Protestants adopted it. It is not followed by the Orthodox church which preceded the other two main branches of Christianity. The New Church explains this further: salvation was effected by transforming the human form into a Divine Human, which was done by spiritual combats and temptations in a spiritual warfare against the powers of hell. The suffering on the cross is merely the last temptation that preceded the union of the Divine with the human form:
"As to [the Passover, or Easter] it is to be known that it specially signifies the glorification of the Lord's Human, thus the remembrance of this and thanksgiving on account of it, for by this glorification and the subjugation of the hells by the Lord, man has liberation from evils and salvation. For the Lord glorified His Human by combats against the hells and then by continual victories over them. The last combat and victory was on the cross; wherefore He then fully glorified Himself, as He also teaches in John: When he [Judas] was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him (xiii. 31, 32)." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10655.2)Again:
"The Lord came into the world that He might save the human race, which otherwise would have perished in eternal death. And He saved the race by this, that He subdued the hells which were infesting every man that came into the world and that went out of the world, and at the same time by this, that He glorified His Human, for thereby He can hold the hells under subjection to eternity. The subjugation of the hells and the glorification of His Human at the same time were effected by temptations admitted into His Human and then by continual victories. His passion on the cross was the last temptation and the full victory." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10828)This was necessary, as now the Divine can interact directly with humanity which had become separated from heaven in this lower material plane. I say this "material plane," because above and below this material plane there are higher spiritual planes of heaven, and lower planes of hell. Human life on this material plane is governed by spirits from both planes:
"That it was also for the sake of liberation from evil and from falsities of evil, is because by the subjugation of the hells by the Lord and by the glorification of His Human is all liberation from evil, and there is none without these means. For man is ruled by spirits from hell and by angels out of heaven from the Lord. Wherefore unless the hells had been altogether subjugated and unless the Human of the Lord had been altogether united to the Divine Itself, and thus also made Divine, no man could ever have been liberated from hell and saved, for the hells would always have prevailed, since man has become such that of himself he thinks nothing but what is of hell." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10655.4)These planes of heaven and hell are dimensional planes, that exist where space and time have no meaning, but they interact with us in this material plane from within, to govern how we think and act.
SALVATION IS LIBERATION FROM HELL
What this means, is that the doctrine of vicarious atonement, which is presently the foundation of theology for the Catholic and Protestant churches, is patently false. It encourages people to think they can get away with the sins of their life through mere belief, which is not the case. It has to be removed through repentance:
"It is believed by most persons within the church that the Lord came into the world that He might reconcile the Father by the passion of the cross, and that afterward they might be accepted for whom He should intercede, also that He released man from damnation by this, that He also fulfilled the law, which otherwise would have condemned every one, and thus that all would be saved who should hold that faith with confidence and trust. But they who are in any enlightenment from heaven may see that it cannot be that the Divine, which is Love itself and Mercy itself, could reject from Itself and condemn to hell the human race, and that It had to be reconciled by Its Son's passion of the cross, and that in this way and in no other way It was moved with mercy, and that henceforth the life should not condemn any one if only he had a confident faith concerning that reconciliation, and that all salvation is effected by faith from mercy. They who so think and believe can see nothing at all. They speak but understand nothing. They therefore call those things mysteries which are to be believed but not apprehended by any understanding. So it follows that all enlightenment from the Word, showing the case to be otherwise, is rejected; for light from heaven cannot enter when such darkness from contradictions reigns. It is said darkness, because there is no understanding." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10659.2)A "mystery of faith" means not only is it not understood, but also it has no rational justification. This keeps the majority of people in ignorance, and to maintain that ignorance many churches resort to the logical fallacy of argument from authority: it must be true because we said it was true. This closes off the higher spiritual understanding (see Truth by Religious Tradition & Authority vs. Spiritual Truth).
"The Lord came into the world in order that He might subjugate the hells and reduce all things there and in the heavens into order, and that this could not in any wise be effected except by the Human; for from this He could fight against the hells, but not from the Divine without the Human; and so also that He might glorify His Human in order that thereby He might for ever hold all things in the order into which He reduced them. Thereby is man's salvation; for around every man are hells, inasmuch as every one is born into evils of every kind, and where evils are, there are hells, and unless these were cast out by the Divine power of the Lord, no one ever could have been saved." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10659.3)
SALVATION IS FROM REPENTANCE, AND LIVING BY THE COMMANDMENTS
"To be led away from evils, to be regenerated, and thus to be saved, is mercy, which is not immediate, as is believed, but mediate, that is, to those who recede from evils and so admit truth of faith and good of love into their life from the Lord. Immediate mercy, namely, such as would extend to every one merely from the good pleasure of God, is contrary to Divine order, and that which is contrary to Divine order is contrary to God, since order is from God and His Divine in heaven is order. To receive order into one's self is to be saved, and this is effected solely by living according to the Lord's commandments. Man is regenerated to the end that he may receive into himself the order of heaven, and he is regenerated by faith and by the life of faith, which is charity. He who has order in himself is in heaven, and indeed is heaven in a certain image, but he who has not is in hell and is hell in a certain image. The one cannot in any wise be changed and transcribed into the other from immediate mercy, for they are opposites, inasmuch as evil is opposite to good, and in good is life and heaven, but in evil is death and hell. That the one cannot be transcribed into the other the Lord teaches in Luke: Abraham said unto the rich man in hell, Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they cross from thence to us (xvi. 26). If indeed immediate mercy were given, all would be saved, as many as are in the world, neither would there be a hell, for the Lord is Mercy itself because He is Love itself, which wills the salvation of all and the death of no one." (Heavenly Arcana, n. 10659.4)
THE UNION OF THE DIVINE WITH THE HUMAN IS A TYPE OF REPENTANCE
As Jehovah became incarnate, and fought off the hells in temptations in His human until the very human was united and one with the Divine, so each one of us must recognize temptation and fight against it. This is the process of reformation and spiritual regeneration. The work that the Lord did goes hand in hand with one's spiritual development. He did not want us to be lazy, and just believe. Spiritual development transforms one's life in how one lives, and one must put effort into it for the Lord to act from within. Belief alone does not save, and there is no faith without withdrawing from evil and doing good. But evil must be removed before good can become implanted in one's heart, and there is no way to do this except through temptation, and resisting it with the Lord's help.
That the Lord's passion, death and resurrection is a type for all of us to follow is declared by Paul:
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." (Rom. 6:4-6)The doctrines of the New Church explain this further: in the Lord there was a complete union between the Divine and His human form, until He became a Divine Human. This Divine Human is the Son (not a separate person as others would have you believe). However in each of us, there is not a union of the Divine with our human nature, but a conjunction between ourselves and the Divine. It is through repentance that there is the taking away of sins through the Lord:
"Something shall now be said as to what is meant by taking away sins. By taking away sins the like is meant as by redeeming man and saving him; for the Lord came into the world that man might be saved. Without His Coming, no mortal could have been reformed and regenerated, and thus saved; but this could be done after the Lord had taken away all power from the Devil, that is, from hell, and had glorified His Human, that is, united it to the Divine of His Father. If these things had not been done, no man would have been able to receive any Divine truth that would remain with him, and still less any Divine good; for the Devil, who before had superior power, would have plucked them out of his heart. From these things, it is manifest that the Lord did not take away sins by the passion of the cross, but that He takes them away, that is, removes them, in those who believe in Him, in living according to His commandments; as the Lord also teaches in Matthew: Think not that I am come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. Whosoever shall break the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens (v. 17, 19)." (Doctrine of the Lord, n. 17)In effect, the path to salvation did not change between the Old and New Testaments, it was preserved, and a new spiritual means was given in greater spiritual light. Unfortunately, due to false teachings, many ignore the Old Testament. It was through this union whereby the Lord has conjunction with the entire human race through good and truth, where He lives inside each one of us:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Rev. 3:20)
THE NEW CHURCH RESTORES THE ORIGINAL DOCTRINE OF CHRISTIANITY
The doctrine of the New Church, how the Lord saved humanity by the union of the Divine with the Human is spelled out in more detail in The Doctrine of the Lord (part of The Doctrines of the New Jerusalem) and True Christian Religion (both are found in The Divine Revelation of the New Jerusalem). The passion of the cross is distinct from redemption and salvation, but was yet a means to it. This of course is going to be new to many, but those of the Orthodox church will say, "I told you so," although they treat it as somewhat a mystery without explanation. In modern theology, this is known as "Christus Victor" and is seeing somewhat of a revival: see A Rational Explanation for Atonement: Christus Victor, the Divine Human. This was the original doctrine of Christianity which has been lost, and now restored or "resurrected" from the dead. The doctrine of the New Church is not exactly "new," it can be found in scattered references of the early church fathers before false theology entered the church. The doctrines of the New Church explains why the Jehovah became incarnate, why He suffered from the cross, and why He rose from the dead, in much more spiritual detail than ever before. These revelations, along with revealing the internal spiritual sense of scripture, is the Second Coming (see Is the Second Coming a Physical Event or Spiritual Event?)