Wow. I’m beginning to feel that I bit off incredibly more than I could chew with this book. It is so full, and trying to summarise it is no small feat. Nonetheless, seeing as I’m more than knee-deep in it I shall just have to plough on, today with chapter six.
6. The Self-Substitution of God
To get to know our substitute and to understand the notion of his substituting himself, we need to first consider the Old Testament sacrifices as they were preparatory for the sacrifice of Christ. As the book of Hebrews says, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is the perfect fulfilment of the Old Testament ‘shadows’. So, what did these sacrifices signify, and did they have substitutionary meaning?
Despite being fairly different, the forms of sacrifice described in the Old Testament shared two complementary notions: 1) the sense human beings have of belonging to God; 2) the sense of our alienation from God because of sin and guilt. Both these notions are recognitions of God’s grace and are expressions of dependence on it.
The Old Testament sacrificial system provided for daily, weekly, monthly, annual and occasional offerings. It included five types of offering: burnt, cereal, peace, sin and guilt offerings. Only the cereal offering wasn’t a blood sacrifice, and was therefore made in association with one of the others.
The clearest indication that blood sacrifices had a substitutionary significance is found in Leviticus 17:11. From this verse, we learn three things:
- blood is symbolic of life (see also Genesis 9:4 and Deuteronomy 12:23)
- blood makes atonement: it is only because the life of a creature is in the blood that blood makes atonement for one’s life. A life was given for a life.
- blood was given by God for this atoning purpose—the sacrificial system is a God-given means of atonement, not an invention of man
The New Testament clearly identifies Christ’s death as the fulfilment of the Passover. What can we learn about Christ, our Passover lamb, from the first Passover?
In the first Passover, the God of Israel is revealed in three roles:
- Judge: Unlike the other plagues, the final plague did not distinguish between Israelite and Egyptian. Every firstborn male would die, the only escape being that provided by God.
- Redeemer: Yahweh promised to ‘pass over’ every blood-marked house
- Israel’s covenant God: He redeemed them, and they were to commemorate and celebrate his goodness.
What we can learn form this:
- the Judge and the Saviour are the same person
- salvation is by substitution: only where a lamb had died was the firstborn son spared
- the lamb’s blood had to be sprinkled after being shed: there had to be an appropriation of the divine provision
- each family rescued by God was thereby purchased for God. Their whole life belonged to him
The OT is clear that to ‘bear sin’ is to undergo its penalty (examples: Lev 5:17, Num 18:22). It is conceivable that another bear the penalty of the of the sinner’s wrongdoing, either involuntarily (e.g. Num 30:15, Lam 5:7) or deliberately. In the ‘servant songs’ in Isaiah we read of one whose mission it would be to suffer, bear sin and die. Chapter 53 in particular is applied consistently to Jesus. Excepting verse 2, all the verses of this chapter are explicitly or implicitly referred to in the NT, and applied to Jesus Christ.
Thus the sinless one was made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) and redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:14). In both these verses, the negative truth is followed by a positive result in form of an exchange. Our curse for his blessing; our sin for his righteousness. It is not our moral qualities that are transferred to Christ, but the legal consequences. Similarly, the righteousness we have in Christ isn’t one of character and conduct (although that grows within us through the Holy Spirit), but rather a righteous standing before God.
If you’re still reading this, good for you! The rest of the chapter goes on to examine the identity of our substitute, explaining why it was neither Christ alone who suffered and died on the cross (for that would make him a third party between us and God), nor was it God alone (since that would undermine the incarnation), but God in Christ. Stott does this by describing among other things, hymnody and heresies, which do not lend themselves to summary. The following chapters aren’t going to be any lighter so I’d better get used to it…