He paid the ultimate price

Pastor Jeff Struecker

Let’s talk about the most important event in human history and how people, over the years, have interpreted the atonement, the cross, and Jesus’ death on the cross. 

We’ve been studying theology, who Jesus is, and what Jesus did for us on the cross. We learned about his sacrifice, and we learned about his suffering. And now we’re going to look at the cross. For 2000 years, theologians have debated the theories of atonement, and I am here to explain each. 

Ransom Theory

On a hillside outside of Jerusalem, one of the first theories here is the ransom theory. This idea states that when people sin, they become slaves to Satan, and Satan now has control over them, and for us to be free from sin, Jesus had to die on the cross. That’s the atonement to pay a ransom.  

Satisfaction Theory

The next theory says that God is holy and perfect, and sin is an offense against a Holy and Perfect God. And for our sins to be paid for, God has to be paid back for the sin. God and His wrath must be satisfied. So Jesus’s death on the cross satisfies God’s holiness and the wrath that God has for sin.  

Christus Victor Theory 

The Christus Victor Theory comes from a Latin saying that Christ is the victor.  This theory states that by dying on the cross, Jesus demonstrated that he broke all those powers that have control over humans; the power of sin, temptation, and death in the grave. He is more powerful than all those things, and his death on the cross was the final nail in the coffin.  

Penal substitution theory

The next theory is called the penal substitution theory. When I say the word penal, I want you to think of a penal colony; that’s what we call a prison. And the penal part of penal substitution means prison or means punishment. And the idea here is that sin must be punished for you to be made free from your sin. Jesus took the punishment, the prison sentence, and the penalty for your sin so that you didn’t have to go through it.   

Scapegoat theory

The fifth theory goes back to Leviticus chapter 16, when the people of Israel held their Passover celebration. There were two goats; one goat was sacrificed and burnt on the altar, but the other goat represented the sins of all of Israel. The priest would place their hands on this goat, they would symbolically pass their sin onto this goat, and then they would send the goat outside the camp.

That goat in Leviticus 16 represented Jesus, and on the cross, God placed on him all of our sins, and he took our sins for us to escape sin.   

Governmental theory

The governmental theory basically says that God is against sin. God created the world to be pure and without sin. So what Jesus had to do on the cross was to restore God’s government, restore humans’ ability to be made right with God, and be free from sin.   

Theosis Theory

This theory states that sin breaks man and is broken. Man is wounded, and humankind is incomplete. Jesus’s death on the cross puts humans back together and makes us complete again. Without that death on the cross, we would be incomplete for eternity.    

Moral Influence theory

The eighth theory is the moral influence theory, and this theory says Jesus wasn’t necessarily coming to die in your place. He was coming to be a good moral example for you, and the ultimate act of example for you is his willingness to sacrifice or die for somebody else.   

Solidarity Theory

The last theory is called the solidarity theory. And the solidarity theory is when your friend gets cancer and loses all of her hair, you go ahead and cut your hair off to show her how much you love her, how much you’re right there with her. Well, Jesus knows that we all have sinned, and we can’t be freed for our sins, and the wages of sin is death, so he shows his solidarity to us by going to the cross.   

I want to put a verse of scripture and help you work through these theories of the atonement, and maybe the verse of scripture that will help you most comes from Colossians 2:14. Here’s what it says, 

Memory Verse

We’re stuck in our sin and need to be rescued. Jesus blew up all the things that hold and control men after the first sin by dying on the cross. I have a little question I’m going to ask you to think about, and I’ll be honest with you, it is not supposed to be a trick question, but if you don’t think about it, you’re going to get the answer wrong. So here it is,


The word “made” is in quotation because I’m asking, “What really put Jesus to the point that he would go to a cross and be willing to give his life up?”

I’m not asking you if it was the loss of blood, the beating, or something else while he was hanging on the cross.

What pushed him?

What propelled him to the cross?

That question is essential to your soul, and that’s why we’re looking at these atonement theories. I hope God’s amazing love moves you and that He will send His Son, Jesus Christ, the victor, to blow up all those things that have power over you and set you radically free.