Word of the Week
March 27, 2021
For Us: The Word for Good Friday
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
1 Corinthians 15:3
Secular society gears up for Easter, with chocolate bunnies, colored eggs and spring fashions filling the stores. But only Christians celebrate Good Friday. Merchants don’t stock their shelves with chocolate crosses.
Good Friday takes us back to the terrible events that culminated in the death of Jesus Christ. It was a dark, depressing day. It began with a hasty arrest, a rigged trial, and a questionable guilty verdict. Jesus was beaten, mocked, and fastened to a cross. By the end of the day, he was dead and his body was lying in a tomb. Why would anyone celebrate such a tragedy?
Christians commemorate Christ’s death because our faith is more than just a philosophy of life. It is the declaration that God has stepped into history at a certain time and place to provide salvation for us.
According to the apostle Paul, the gospel can be capsulized in two events:
- Christ died for our sins (and was buried to prove it)
- Christ was raised on the third day (and proved it by appearing to people)
(1 Corinthians 15:3-5)
Christ died for us. The New Testament repeatedly declares that His death was no accident; it was intended for our benefit (Romans 5:6, 8; 1Thessalonians 5:10). And this is a time of the year when we are reminded to meditate on all that God accomplished at the cross.
We can unlock the significance of Good Friday by looking at a simple Greek preposition.
People have offered a wide variety of explanations for what Christ’s death was supposed to accomplish.
Some say it was supposed to influence us to follow His example of love and sacrifice.
Some say it was a demonstration of how much God loves us.
Some even claimed it was a ransom paid to free us from Satan!
One reason for such different opinions is the fact that all the verses we have quoted so far use the Greek word huper, which means “for, for the sake of, for the benefit of.” Huper just tells you that something was done that is good for you – in almost any way imaginable. It is not a very specific word, so it leaves room for a variety of interpretations.
There is another preposition, however, that has a more specific meaning. Jesus used the Greek word anti to describe His death in Matthew 20:28 and Mark 10:45:
Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for (anti) many.
You might think that a word like anti would mean “against,” but that’s not the idea in the New Testament. It can be translated as “for,” but it more precisely means “instead of, in the place of.”
For example, Matthew 2:22 reports that Archelaus was reigning over Judah in the place of his father Herod.
Jesus once reminded his listeners that if a boy asked his father for a fish, the dad would not give him a snake instead of a fish (Luke 11:11).
The word anti points clearly to the truth that Christ died as a substitute for us. We were guilty sinners and deserved the penalty of eternal death. God couldn’t just let us off the hook without compromising His own righteousness. But Jesus died to take the punishment that we deserved. He took the full weight of God’s wrath against sin so that we would not have to bear it ourselves.
As 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
You can find the underlying logic of this transaction in Romans 3:26. The death of Christ satisfied all of God’s holy demands so that He could declare us “Not guilty” without compromising His justice.
That’s why we “celebrate” Good Friday. It is the hinge of history, the death that made eternal life possible for us.
Prepositions can be tricky. Consider the word “with” in these sentences:
My father fought with the Americans in World War II.
My father fought with the Japanese in World War II.
My father fought with a rifle in World War II.
Same word, three different ideas!
Prepositions like with can be tricky. Like a chameleon, a preposition can change color when it moves to a different context. You must handle them with care to avoid confusion. Even a narrower preposition like anti has some variety in usage. However, the 22 appearances of the word in the New Testament maintain the idea of one thing after another.
Q: What does Paul mean when he says we are “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37?
A: Paul actually invents a new Greek word to convey his idea in this verse. He takes the word nikaō (nih-kah’-oh) which means “to conquer or overcome,” and adds the preposition huper in front of it. When huper is used in combinations like this, it intensifies the meaning of the word. We get the English word hyper from it, so you might say that the new word hupernikaō means “to hyper-conquer.” Most Bible translations try to get this idea across by saying, “conquer overwhelmingly” or “be more than conquerors.”
A neighbor in Arizona posted a sign on his fence: “Beware of the creeping amaranthus!” He was joking, but he unwittingly used a Greek word that describes one of the blessings we enjoy because of Easter. Next week we will explore this word in 1 Peter.
©Ezra Project 2021