The Satisfaction of Christ
The word Atonement is commonly used to describe Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross, reconciling the sinner and God. This definition, however, fails to give complete recognition to all that Christ did in redeeming his people; it conveys to most people only the idea of the removal of guilt by His suffering the penalty, but not the equally important truth that through Christ's active obedience He has gained for His people eternal life. Consequently, many in the past have preferred the term "Satisfaction," to describe the work of Christ. Christ has satisfied all God's righteousness for His people by suffering the penalty of their sin, and by perfectly obeying God's law for His people, or, as some old divines would say, "The doing enough." The word atonement is used in this fuller sense in this article.
THE NECESSITY OF THE ATONEMENT
"For if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly." (Gal. 2:21).
The cause of the atonement, or the motive for it, is God's gracious mercy and sovereign love for His people, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn. 4:10; See also: Lk. 2.14). But nothing in us motivated God to affect a way of reconciliation between Himself and us, for "while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5.8). In other words, as the Scriptures declare, we "are justified freely by His grace" (Rom. 3.24).
However, when speaking of the necessity of the atonement, we are seeking an answer to the question, Did Jesus have to die? The answer is no, in the sense that God was not under any obligation to redeem and save anyone. The Father did not have to send the Son, nor did the Son have to sacrifice Himself. That the Father did send the Son, and that the Son willingly came, is an act of pure grace. But once the Triune God decreed to save sinners, was the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ the only means by which He could graciously accomplish the salvation of His people?
To say that God "must" do this, or "cannot" do that, seems to contradict the Biblical notion of God's sovereignty. However, Scripture teaches that all what God wills He can do. Nevertheless, we still recognize that God "must" do right, and that he "cannot" lie. In other words, God cannot will to do wrong. This necessity is the result of God's own perfections, and not cause by anything outside Himself. Similarly, whatever means God uses in the salvation of sinners, once He decreed to saved them, must be in harmony with who and what He is. In the salvation of sinners, God's nature--particularly His Holiness, Justice , and Immutability-- necessarily requires the death of His beloved Son if anyone will be saved.
The Holiness of God not only means that He is infinitely separate and exalted above all creation, but also that He is infinitely pure in an ethical sense. "Far be it from God to do wickedness, and from the Almighty to do wrong" (Job 34:10b); "Surely, God will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice" (Job 34:12); God is infinitely pure, infinitely Holy; therefore He cannot have any association with evil, "Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil, And Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor" (Hab. 1:13); "For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with the" (Ps. 5:4). To stand in His presence we would, like Isaiah, be overwhelmed with the sense of His Holiness: "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the Lord of host" (Isa. 6.5). (Ps. 7:11; 5:4, 6:45:7; Deut. 4.24; Prov. 11:20; Jer. 44:4; Isa. 61:8). The Holiness of God must preclude any notion that God can will to ignore sin.
"The Lord reins, let the people tremble;
He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake!
The Lord is great in Zion, and He is exalted above all the peoples.
Let them praise Thy great and awesome name;
Holy is He.
And the strength of the King loves justice;
Thou hast established equity;
Thou hast executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God,
And worship at His footstool;
Holy is He." Psalm 99:1-5
Because God is Holy, He is also Just. In other words, He must do right. All His acts from eternity are according to His justice. He does what is right, because He is right. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?" (Gen. 18.25). God, because He will do right, must reward the righteous and punish the wicked. This truth is so often repeated in Scripture that no proof is required for those who take the word of God seriously. Justice, then, "is that phase of God's holiness which is seen in His treatment of the obedient and the disobedient subjects of His government. It is that attribute whereby He gives to everyone what is due him" ( Shedd 1.365). If God is just, then not only does God give everyone what is due him, but he MUST do so. This is proven from the following considerations:
(1) Scripture many times and in many ways states it:
"Who will render to every man according to His deeds" (Rom. 2:6).
"God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day" (Ps. 7:11).
"He will judge the world in righteousness" (Ps. 96:13)
"Because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof by raising Him from the Dead" (Acts 17:31).
"For the LORD is a God of justice" (Isa. 30:18).
"He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished" (Ex. 34:7).
"Vengeance is Mine, and retribution" (Deut. 32:35)
"Dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (2 Thess. 1:8)
(2) That God is just and must punish sin, is the leading argument of the apostle Paul in Romans 1:18-3:20 where he carefully shows all are guilty sinners and all, because of God's justice, stand condemned. God is a God of justice, and a righteous judge whose law and nature demand that He punished sin. Only after these facts are firmly established, does Paul share the good news of justification through faith.
(4) The OT sacrifices suggest sin must be punished, "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9:22)
(5) "Christ was set forth as a propitiation, in order that God would be just in justifying the ungodly. This assumes that it would be unjust, i. e., contrary to moral rectitude, to pardon the guilty without propitiation" (C. Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 423).
God is a righteous and Holy God and must punish all sin, and He will render to every person according to their deeds. The justice of God is manifest in the punishment of sin; and the motive for it is not the benefit of the sinner, although this may result, but the holiness of God. God hates sin and He must punish it. If this were not so, then there is no need for an atonement or even the doctrine of justification by faith. The atonement and justification are necessary if God is just and merciful, and is only means by which God can be just and forgive the sinner.
God's immutability means He does not change-- "For I, the LORD, do not change" (Mal. 3.6). A change is for better or worse. For God to change for the better means He is not perfect; for God to change for the worse means He is not wise. God cannot change. Because God does not change, He must remain true to Himself and to His Law.
The Law is a reflection of God's immutable character; it too is unchangeable. In the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished" (Mt. 5.18). Furthermore, if God's law is immutable, then so are penal punishments for they are not only part of God's Law but are frequently given as the principal part, "The soul that sins will die," "the wages of sin is death," etc.; and the Law says, "Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them" (Deut. 26.27), to which the Apostle Paul confirms, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them'" (Gal. 3.10).
Herein is problem, the law condemns all: "There is none righteous, not even one," and "all have sin and come short of the glory of God." If all sin, and if all are condemned by God's law, then God must carry out His law. God must be holy and just. He cannot pretend there is any sin; He cannot forgive and forget; He can only accept the exact or equivalent punishment that the law demands, because He does not change.
Throughout Scripture sin is never overlooked by God. Because of His holiness, justice, and immutability, sin demands His wrath and condemnation (Rom. 1:18; Gal. 3:10); If one accurately understands the magnitude of sin's offense in God's eyes, and understands the nature of God, particularly His holiness and justice; and that God demands perfect righteousness (Mt. 5:48), who, "will by no means leave the guilty unpunished," (Ex. 34:7) then it is not conceivable how God can be just, and justify the sinner (Rom. 3.25-26) apart from the perfect obedience and sacrificial death of the Beloved. (Gen. 18:25; Ps. 11:5-7; 97:2; 50:21; Hab. 1:13; Num. 14.18; Nah. 1:2, 3; Ps. 5.4-6). Christ's Atonement is the only way God can be both a "righteous God and Savior" (Isa. 45:21).
Charles Hodge writes,
"All that the Bible teaches of the truth of God; of the immutability of the law; of the necessity of faith; of the uselessness and worthlessness of all other sacrifices for sin; and of the impossibility of salvation except through the work of the incarnate Son of God, precludes the idea that satisfaction was not necessary to our salvation, or that any other means could have accomplished the object. And if thus absolutely necessary, it must be that nothing else has worth enough to satisfy the demands of God's law. It is the language and spirit of the whole Bible, and of every believing heart in relation to Christ that His blood alone has power sufficient to atone." (Charles Hodge 2.486)
Many vainly believe that God, on that dreadful day, will simply forgive and forget their iniquity. After all, they reason, if they can forgive and forget without demanding satisfaction for wrong, a noble thing in their eyes, why cannot this supreme being of ours do the same? But if the Cross says anything to these foolish people, it says this: God cannot over look sin. God must be true to Himself, and He cannot forgive and forget without satisfaction to His justice; to do otherwise would be a contradiction against Himself. The Scriptures say, "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it Good?" (Num. 23.19).
But justice, mercy and truth meet in the Cross of Jesus Christ. In the Words of our Lord and Savior: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes may in Him have eternal life" (Jn. 3.14-15). The alternative is one day "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the Glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:7b-9). Sin will not be overlooked, or merely forgiven and forgotten on the day of judgement.
"Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed
See who bears the awful loss;
Tis the Word, The Lord's anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God."
THE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT
It will be helpful in understanding the nature of the atonement to first understand the one who atones--Jesus Christ. Clearly He is no ordinary person. For if He were, then His sacrifice could not merit anything for His people. If He were an ordinary man, then His death was merely a cruel accident. Yet Scripture teaches us that by His life and death the "requirements of the law" are satisfied for all those who put their trust in Him; and the Scriptures also teach us that His death was no accident, but a fulfilling of an eternal plan (Acts 2:23). Therefore, even if the Scriptures were silent regarding the person of Christ, both the nature and effects of His work, clearly tell us that Jesus Christ was no ordinary man.
The Scriptures, however, are not silent about the person of Christ. He is both Son of God, and Son of man; fully divine, fully human, the God-man; and as such, His sacrifice has intrinsic value and infinite worth, sufficient to redeem the sins of the whole world and has completely satisfied God's Holiness, Justice and Law. This is not to say the work itself has no or little value. The only way of reconciling God's Holiness and justice with His grace and mercy in redeeming a sinful people is Christ's work of atonement; nothing else for sin could atone. Yet the intrinsic value and infinite worth of the work is because of who Jesus Christ is--God-man, who bought "the Church of God with His own blood" (Acts 20:28b).
The atonement includes four elements Christ's work. His death was, (a) a propitiation, (b) a redemption, (c) a reconciliation, (d) and a substitution. This is not an exhaustive list of word-pictures describing the death of our Lord. Notable missing is the picture of sacrifice. A separate discussion on the relationship of the Old Testament sacrificial system and Christ's Sacrifice, however, would take many times the space of this article. The reader can find an excellent treatment of this subject in Leon Morris's work, The Atonement: Its Meaning & Significance.
"Being justified as a gift by grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith" (Rom. 3.24-25).
To propitiate means to placate, pacify, appease, conciliate. Christ, by His sacrifice of Himself, has satisfied all of God's demands, making expiation for sin, and propitiating God's holy wrath.
In the Septuagint, the same word translated propitiation in New Testament is use in the following verses:
Concerning Esau whom Jacob had wrong: "And you shall say, Behold, your servant Jacob also is behind us.' For he said, I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then after I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me'" (Gen. 32:20).
"The wrath of the king is as messengers of death, but a wise man will appease it" ( Prov. 16:14).
Concerning the sin offering: "Thus the priest shall make for him in regard to his sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven" (Lev. 4:35).
"But no sin offering of which any of the blood is brought into the tent of meeting to make atonement in the holy place shall be eaten; it shall be burned with fire" (Lev. 6:30).
Shedd notes that:
"The Septuagint idea of Propitiation, rather than the Hebrew idea of covering, is prominent in the New Testament, . . . The difference between the two is not essential, since both terms are objective; but there is a difference. The Hebrew term . . . denotes that the sacrificial victim produces an effect upon sin. It is covered up. But the corresponding Septuagint term hilaskomai denotes that the sacrificial victim produces an effect on God. It propitiates his holy displeasure" (Shedd 2.394).
The doctrine of propitiation presupposes the wrath of God. Consequently, many deny the doctrine of propitiation because they cannot accept a wrathful God. For them, God is love, and only love. The archaic doctrine of God's wrath has no place in their theology of love. But the Bible teaches clearly that God is a God of wrath.
But Christ is not trying to win over an angered Father so that the Father will become loving to His people, a silly caricature used against the doctrines of the wrath of God and propitiation. The Scriptures tell us that God the Father sent the Son to redeem His people, and the Son is truly God. Therefore, the argument that propitiation makes Christ' work an appeasement of a wrath crazed God, trying to make Him loving, does not even attempt to consider seriously all of what the Scriptures teach, nor to understand what the advocates of propitiation are actually teaching.
Furthermore, we must make careful distinction between human wrath and the wrath of God. Often, human anger is sinful, out of control, and can be the result of many factors. We must not compare human wrath with divine wrath. God is never out of control. Unlike many pagan deities, who are fickle and unpredictable, God's wrath is revealed only against sin. God's wrath is His abiding anger for all evil. The wrath of God is His abiding hatred of all sin. Our God is not fickle or unpredictable; sin brings His wrath.
THE WRATH OF GOD
"He who loves the good, by this very fact hates the evil" (Lactantius).
The wrath of God is a doctrine disliked and denied by many today. Yet for those who take Scripture seriously, it must be admitted that God is not only a God of love, but of wrath too. The Old Testament mentions the wrath or anger of God over 580 times. In the New Testament, although far less frequently then the Old, the wrath of God is clearly stated many times. In Johns gospel, for example, God's wrath is said to abide on those who do not believe. Paul in Romans alone mentions it over ten times. In Ephesians Paul writes, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (5:6). Likewise, in Colossians he writes, "For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come" (3:6).
The wrath of God is personal, not merely an out-working of natural law-- a cause and effect as when one sticks their finger in a fire and is burned. God's wrath, as depicted in Scripture, is GOD's wrath--His personal reaction and action against sin. God is offended; God reacts; God acts. The apostle Paul writes, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven . . ." Furthermore, throughout this passage Paul tells us that God "gave them over" as judgment for their sin, not some impersonal force of cause and effect. (Rom. 1:18-32).
We must ask, if wrath is impersonal, merely the effect of human sin, as many who deny God's personal wrath claim, then what is mercy? For Scripture tells us both wrath and mercy belong to God. In fact, both are many times put side by side: "And nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from HIS BURNING ANGER and show MERCY to you, and have COMPASSION on you . . ." (Deut. 13.17 See also: Mi. 7:18; Ps. 85:2-3; 78:38). If God's wrath is merely the impersonal effect of human sin, a mere cause and effect relationship, then is mercy also the natural cause of human goodness? If not, and mercy is inherent in God's character, then so is His wrath, for Scripture puts them side by side as God's attributes.
Any Biblical understanding of the atonement, then, must include God's wrath. The judgement of sin, in all forms, is God's wrath revealed, and apart from His wrath there is no judgement or any need for an atonement. Sin must be atoned for because God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness; and for any atonement to be effective in atoning for sin, God's wrath must be put away; His wrath must be propitiated.
Although God's wrath is dreadful reality, Christians can rejoice, being assured that God's wrath is propitiated. Jesus Christ, our Brother and High Priest, has propitiated God's wrath for His people: "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that H might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17).
"Complete atonement Thou has made,
And to the utmost Thou has paid,
Whate'er Thy people owed;
How then can wrath on me take place,
If sheltered in Thy righteousness
And sprinkled with Thy blood?" (Toplady)
Reconciliation is another Biblical image defining the nature of the atonement. The Scriptures say that by Christ's death we are reconciled to God: " " (Rom. 5:10). Reconciliation "is that sovereign work of God the Father in which His alienation from sinners is removed through the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Reconciliation is based upon propitiation. . . . Thus reconciliation does not primarily refer to a changed attitude in man's attitude toward God but, rather in God's attitude toward man. Reconciliation provided the forensic or legal basis upon which God can turn to save sinners" (Morey, Studies in the Atonement, p. 31 & 32)
When man sinned in Adam, God and man became enemies (Rom. 5:10). Man is at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7) and God, as we have noted, is hostile toward sinners. Nevertheless, God reconciles us to Himself: "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). In Reconciliation, God's hostility and alienation is removed through Christ, death so that He and His people can be reconciled. It is not primarily the removal of man's alienation, but God's.
Some argue it is not God's alienation and hostility in view, after all, they say, God is a God of love. They argue "we were reconciled to God" (Rom. 5:10) meaning it is our alienation that is removed in reconciliation. But John Murray answers:
"When in Matthew 5:24 we read, "Be reconciled to thy brother," we have an example of the use of the word "reconcile" that should caution us against a common inference. In this instance the person bringing his gift to the altar is reminded that his brother has something against him. It is this grievance on the part of the other that is the reason for interrupting his act of worship. It is the grievance and, in that sense, the "against" of the other that the worshiper must take into account, and it is the removal of that grievance, of that alienation, of that against,' that the reconciliation which he is required to effect contemplates. He is to do all that is necessary to remove the alienation in the mind and attitude of the other. It is plain, therefore, that the situation requiring reconciliation is the frame of mind or the attitude of the other and what the reconciliation must effect. is the change of mind on the part of the other, namely, the person called the brother. Thus we are pointed in a very different direction from that which we might have expected from the mere formula "be reconciled." And although it is the "against" of the brother that is in view as requiring a change, the exhortation is in terms of "be reconciled to thy brother" and not at all "Let thy brother be reconciled to thee." By this analysis it can easily be seen that the formula "reconciled to God" can well mean that what the reconciliation has in view is God's alienation from us and the removal of that alienation. Matthew 5:23, 24 shows how indefensible is an interpretation that rests its case upon what, at best, is mere appearance" (Murray, The Atonement, p. 16).
Furthermore, Paul writes in Rom. 5:9: "Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." How are we saved form God's wrath? Paul explains in verse 10: "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" According to the Apostle Paul, it is God's wrath and hostility that is the central issue, and its removal, through the death of His beloved Son, Paul calls reconciliation.
The Biblical idea of redemption means to set free by the payment of a price. Redemption presupposes someone or something is in bondage. In the atonement, Jesus Christ, by His blood, purchased God's elect and secured for them release from the bondage of sin, Satan, and the curse of the law. "The language of redemption is that of securing release by the payment of a price, and it is this concept that is applied expressly to the laying down of Jesus' life and the shedding of His blood. Jesus shed His blood in order to pay the price of our ransom. Redemption cannot be reduced to lower terms" (Murray, The Atonement, P. 21 [Pamphlet]).
The Greek uses several words to describe redemption. One is agorazo, and means to buy or purchased. For example, in Rev. 5.9: "Worthy art thou to take the book and to break its seals; for Thou was slain and didst purchased for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." When agorazo is used in 1 Cor. 6.20, 7.23, and 2 Pet. 2.1, the meaning is clearly redemption through the atonement of Christ. It is deliverance by purchase. Another word is exagorazo and is "From ex . . . out or from and agorazo, to buy. To buy or redeem from as applied to our redemption by Christ from the curse of the Law" (WSD). The word lutron, along with its word group, however, is the most significant for understanding the NT idea of redemption. B. B. Warfield noted that:
"In the group of words built up around [lutron] the Greek language offered to New Testament a series of terms which distinctly said ransom'; and just in proportion as we think of the writers of the New Testament as using Greek naturally we must think of them as feeling the intrinsic significance of these words as they used them, and as using them only when they intended to give expression to this their intrinsic significance. It is safe to say that no Greek, to the manner born, could write down any word, the center of which was [lutron], without consciousness of ransoming as the mode of deliverance of which he was speaking" (Biblical Doctrines, P. 340-341).
In ancient times, the victor in battle would take as many survivors as possible for slaves. Afterward, they notified the conquered enemy of the capture of the more important prisoners so that the enemy could redeem or purchase them back from captivity. This is one way many would understand the words ransom and redemption. A more prominent image, however, that lutron would bring to the mind of the NT person is Sacral Manumission. According to ancient law, a slave can free himself by paying a ransom price in a rite of sacral manumissions. Deissmann describes the process:
"Among the various ways in which the manumission of a slave could take place by ancient law we find the solemn rite of fictitious purchase of the slave by some divinity. The owner comes with the slave to the temple, sells him there to the god, and receives the purchase money from the temple treasury, the slave having previously paid it there out of his savings. The slave is now property of the god; not however, a slave of the temple, but a protege of the god. Against all the world, especially his former master, he is a completely free man; at utmost a few pious obligations to his old master are imposed on him" ( Light Form the Ancient East, P. 322).
Morris cites this inscription:
"Chaeremon to the agoranomus, greeting. Grant freedom to Euphrosyne, a slave, age 35 years, born in her owner's house of the slave Demetrous. She is being set at liberty under . . . by ransom [(epi lutrois)] by her mistress Aloine, daughter of Komon, son of Dionysius of Oxyrhyncus, under the wardship of Komon, the son of Aloine's deceased brother Dioscortus. Aloine's deceased brother Dioscorus. The price is 10 drachmae of coined silver and 10 talents, 3,000 drachame of copper. Farewell" ( The Oxyrhyncus Papyri, cited by Morris, Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, P. 13).
The meaning of redemption is clearly that of buying back a person or thing in bondage through a ransom price. The idea is not unlike our present day pawn shops. In NT thought, Jesus Christ, through His substitutionary death on the cross, buys back His people out of bondage--His blood is the payment of that price. Through His shed blood we are forgiven: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).
For the person aware of his sin, and under the curse of the law and wrath of God, there is no greater comfort then to know God's forgiveness. Yet God's forgiveness is an even greater comfort for God's children! We sin daily with full knowledge of Christ's sacrifice; and we sin not as slaves, but as free. Yet, Christ's redemption has brought us forgiveness of all our sins.
God's children must avoid two extremes. We must avoid making too light of sin. Sin is an offense to our God, and God will discipline His children. However, we must also avoid self-condemnation and despondency over our sin. Christ's has redeemed us; we are forgiven. The apostle John writes: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness" (1 Jn. 1:9).
It is a common experience of Christians at times to fear God, and, like Adam, hide from His presence because of our sin. We sometimes fear going to Him because of some grievous sin. But in doing so we commit a greater sin! It implies that Christ's blood has not redeemed; That there is no forgiveness; That God is not faithful and righteous; That Christ's death was in vain! Scripture, however, tells us, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). In Jesus Christ, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins. We are bought with a price. We are redeemed by Christ's precious blood to become a "People of God's own possession." We are His! We belong to Him as adopted children. Do not fear God, He is our Father. We must go to Him, confess our sins, and trust Him and His word that we are forgiven.
" Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more." (Cowper)
"O sweet exchange!" (Epistle to Diognetus)
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (Jn. 15:13).
Substitutionary atonement, also called by some writers vicarious atonement, is the work of Christ in which He freely and graciously took the place of His people and bore the punishment of their sins: "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20.28). The word for is the Greek word anti, and is used almost exclusively in the sense of "instead," or, "in the place of." The word is used "in order to indicate that one person or thing is or is to be replaced by another, instead of, in place of" ( A & G, P. 73). Our Lord says that His mission in the incarnation was not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life in place of the many (Mk. 10:45). Christ understood His impending death to be a substitution for many.
However, in most other Scripture passages expressing the substitutionary element of the atonement, the Greek word translated for is huper and normally carries the meaning "on behalf of, or, on the account of." However, as the DNTT notes, "The emphasis in huper is on representation, in anti on substitution; yet a substitute represents and a representative may be a substitute. That is, huper sometimes implies anti" (Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, p. 1197). Since we know that our Lord understood His death as substitutionary, and since huper can mean substitution, then when huper is used to represent the relationship between Jesus' death and the sinner, the meaning must include substitution. For example, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for (huper) the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3.18). Obviously, "for" means "in place of." Another example is 2 Cor. 5.14, "For the love of God controls us, having concluded this, that one died for (huper) all, therefore all died." The only possible meaning of huper in this context is "in place of" since the result of Christ's death is "all died." (See also 2 Cor. 5.21; Philemon 13)
Is this theological quibbling of the meaning over a word necessary? Indeed it is, for Jesus did not merely die on our behalf, which is true, but He died in our place. The difference is significant. It is not merely that Christ's death has the potential of atoning for sin, but His death has, for all of God's elect, atoned for sin. As surety for His people, He stood in our place, and taking in our stead the punishment for our sins.
Payment God cannot twice demand,
First at my bleeding surety's hand
And than again at mine.
Those who reject Christ's substitutionary death argue that Christ did not pay what the sinner really owed--eternal suffering. Therefore it is not a true substitution. In answer Dabney gives this insightful illustration:
"A mechanic is justly indebted to a land-owner in the sum of one hundred pounds; and has no money wherewith to pay. now, should a rich brother offer the landlord the full hundred pounds, in coin of the realm, this would be a legal tender; it would, ipso facto, cancel the debt, even though the creditor captiously rejected it. Christ's satisfaction is not ipso facto in this commercial sense. There is a second supposition: that the kind brother is not rich, but is himself an able mechenic; and seeing that the landlord is engaged in building, he proposes that he will work as a builder for him for two hundred days, at ten shillings per diem (which is a fair price), to cancel his poor brother's debt. The proposal, on the one hand, is not legal tender,' and does not compel the creditor. He may say that he has already enough mechenics, who are paid in advance; so that he cannot take the proposal. But, if he judges it convenient to accept it, although he does not get the coin, he gets an actual equivalent for his claim, and a fair one. This is satisfacto. The debtor may thus get a valid release on the terms freely covenanted between the surety and creditor" (Systematic Theology, p. 504).
Such was the case between God the Father and God the Son.
[Part II][Jesus Christ][Home]