Although the word ‘substitution’ is not one that appears in holy scripture, the truth of it is often found. One of the first things that the believer appreciates is the glorious and wonderfully assuring truth that Christ took his place under divine judgement, bearing his sins and their penalty instead of him. The believer may sing with gladness of heart,
‘No other hope, no other plea,
He took my place and died for me’,
[Eliza E. Hewitt].
It is helpful to consider the paschal lamb. On the Passover night the lamb was slain and its blood collected in a basin. In the time after the lamb was slain, but before its blood was applied to the lintel and posts of the door, the most that could be said by the firstborn was, ‘Provision has been made for me; the lamb has been slain on my behalf’. The lamb had died and yet the firstborn was still under judgement. At that stage, therefore, the firstborn could not speak of the slain lamb in substitutionary terms. It was not until the blood was applied to the door frame, in an act that speaks of the obedience of faith, that the firstborn could say, ‘The lamb has died instead of me’. He had the word of God that he would be shielded from the destroyer, for He had said, ‘when I see the blood, I will pass over you’, Exod. 12. 13. What assurance must have filled the heart that day when the firstborn was able to look on the lamb, even as God looked on the blood, and realize with rejoicing that it had died instead of him!
Substitution and propitiation. Propitiation, particularly connected with His blood, relates to the God-ward aspect of the death of Christ, whereas substitution, particularly connected with His body, is man-ward. Man is not propitiated and God is not substituted. Propitiation is in His blood, Rom. 3. 25, and in it we are reminded that our Saviour met every claim of divine righteousness in respect of sins. By that blood, the demands of the throne of God in respect of sins are satisfied. Accordingly, we are justified by His blood; it has answered for all our guilt, and the truth of it is expressed in the opening section of the Roman Epistle. In His entering into death, however, we see the great truth that the man in whose place He stood was brought to an end before God in the death of Christ.
The goat on which the Lord’s lot fell and the scapegoat. The Israelite, on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16, knowing that the blood of the goat had been acceptably sprinkled on and before the mercy seat, watched as the high priest confessed sins, transgressions, and iniquities over the head of the scapegoat. That scapegoat was then led away by the hand of a fit man into a land uninhabited, bearing all those sins, and was never seen again. The believing Israelite saw his sins borne away by another.
These two goats constitute one sin offering. The goat that was slain, and whose blood was sprinkled upon the mercy seat, is not depicted as being a substitute for anyone. Care should be taken to note that the hands of the high priest were never laid on that goat; there was no transference of guilt. In terms of typical teaching, this is of great importance, for there is never any thought that the work of Christ in propitiation was ever limited in any way. An infinite Person offered an infinite sacrifice to God to satisfy the infinite demands of infinite justice. Nothing less than the blood of Christ could have satisfied the demands of God’s throne in respect of sins, however many there were.
However, as the scapegoat was led away by the hand of a fit man, never to be seen again, he bore the confessed sins of that people; he was in their place, so to speak, bearing for them what was really theirs to bear. The scapegoat was a substitute in a way that the other goat never was. Blood on the mercy seat represents that which was God-ward, whilst the scapegoat represents what is man-ward in the death of Christ.
His blood and His body. Each Lord’s day at the Lord’s Supper we note a distinction between our Lord’s body and His blood. ‘This is my body’ is never confused, even by the newest believer, with ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood’, Luke 22. 19, 20. This distinction is often overlooked, however, in our consideration of the doctrine of the cross.
Consider Hebrews chapter 10, in which there are those who are sanctified by His body, v. 10, and others are sanctified by His blood, v. 29. Those who are sanctified vitally by His body are ‘perfected for ever’; substitution is involved. However, those who are sanctified, relatively, or by association, by His blood are apostates who have never exercised saving faith and now count that blood an unholy thing.
This distinction is again made in verses 19 and 20 of Hebrews chapter 10. We have boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, for by His blood, His once for all sacrifice to God on the cross, He has dealt with all that we have done. Our sins and iniquities are judicially remembered no more by God. There was, however, another impediment to my entering the holiest, namely myself, and this He dealt with in His flesh given in death. By that means He inaugurated the new and living way by which we enter. It is no wonder that in Hebrews chapter 2 the writer has taught us that our Lord took part of flesh and blood.
Again, consider Colossians chapter 1 in which believers have been reconciled ‘in the body of his flesh through death’. However, the creation, unable to exercise faith as it can have no will to do so, is reconciled as a result of Christ ‘having made peace through the blood of His cross’. Reference may be made to other chapters, such as Ephesians chapter 2, where His blood and His body given in death are distinguished.
‘All’ and ‘many’. It should be noted that scripture carefully distinguishes between ‘all’ and ‘many’ when speaking of Christ’s sacrifice. ‘All’ means absolutely everybody. We may stand at the cross and look out in every direction of time and say that no one is excluded from the provision that was made; and we may preach this without reserve, and should do so, as we make known the gospel. ‘Many’, however, refers only to those who by faith are, ultimately, among the redeemed. These will look back to Calvary and recognize that Christ died in their stead, bearing their sins in His body on the tree. Accordingly, just as there is no ‘limited atonement’ in scripture so there is no universal substitution.
There is an important distinction between 1 Timothy chapter 2 verse 6, ‘himself a ransom for all’, and Matthew chapter 20 verse 28, ‘his life a ransom for many’. In the first of these verses propitiation is in view, answering to the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell on the Day of Atonement; the ransom paid was of a sufficient value on behalf of ‘all’ without exception. In the other verse, however, there is the truth of substitution, for it was an instead of ransom with ‘many’ being in the good of it. The difference between these two verses is, however, greater than the difference between the prepositions employed. In 1 Timothy He ‘gave himself’, whereas in Matthew He ‘gave his life’, with the clear thought of His actually entering into death. The distinction is exactly that which is noted in Romans chapter 5 verses 9 and 10 where the apostle indicates that justification is by His blood – propitiation has been made – but reconciliation is by His death – there was brought to an end in death the man in whose place He stood in His death.
The clear distinction between ‘all’ and ‘many’ is to be carefully noted again in Romans chapter 5 verses 18-19. The Holy Spirit does not use words haphazardly and, accordingly, we may expect there to be a reason why verse 18 refers to ‘all’ whilst the next verse refers to ‘many’. This extends to every ‘all’ and ‘many’ passage regarding the cross-work of the Lord Jesus.
The force of the preposition eis in verse 18 is ‘unto’ or ‘towards’. As the result of one offence, condemnation, which is eternal, came ‘towards all’ men; thank God it is not upon all eternally. Similarly, as the result of one accomplished righteousness, the work of Calvary in all its accomplishment, justification is ‘towards all’ men. Condemnation is not ‘upon’ all, for salvation has been provided; accordingly, not all will be condemned. Justification is not ‘upon’ all men for that would result in universalism, but in the grace of God it is towards all men without exception.
If it said that the offence was towards ‘many’ rather than ‘all’ the result would be that not all who were born of Adam’s race were similarly affected by his offence. If it said that the one accomplished righteousness was towards ‘many’ men and not ‘all men’ the verse would explicitly teach a limited atonement. This shows the importance of understanding eis as having the significance of ‘towards’; it relates to the direction of the effect of the action of the one man in each case.
In verse 19, however, the word is ‘many’. One man’s act resulted in many being constituted sinners. This clearly refers to a definite and final outcome rather than a bearing towards. Similarly, the obedience of one has a definite and final outcome, for by it many are constituted righteous. If verse 19 stated that ‘by the obedience of one shall all men be constituted righteous’ it would be teaching universalism. Accordingly, there is in this verse the thought of grace that is offered and either accepted or refused.
In the preaching of the gospel, we gladly proclaim a provision for all. Paul preached the gospel to the whole creation, Col. 1. 23. But to tell sinners that Christ bore their sins and all their judgement at Calvary, only for those people, or some of them, to be sent to the lake of fire, is evidently misleading. Substitution is a truth known only to faith.
Devotion. There can be only one proper response to ‘himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20, and that is, ‘me for Himself’. May we all willingly yield ourselves as eternal debtors to the Man who stood in our place under divine judgement at Calvary!