What is Atonement?
Substitute for Punishment
The Bible teaches that the atonement was substitutionary in nature. In the Old Testament, God required the sacrifice of lambs and other types of animals as a substitute for the sins of the people. Each year on the day of Atonement the high priest would place his hands upon the head of two goats, identifying the nation with the animals.
Symbolically, the animals bore the sins of Israel. One of the two goats was then offered in a sacrifice for the sins of the nation. The second goat was led out into the wilderness, illustrating how God h, had separated the sins of the people from himself. All this was typical of another “day of atonement” when Christ would die as our substitute.
In Washington D.C., a group of men and women meet as our representatives. In a democracy, where the people rule, these people are elected to office to represent us as our substitutes in the decision-making process of government. They do not represent Democrats, Republicans, or Independents, but all the people in their district. Even if we voted for the op-posing candidate or failed to vote at all, our senator or representative is still our representative, acting on our behalf as our substitute.
Substitution for Christians
On the cross of Calvary, God placed our sin upon Christ and accepted him in our place as he provided for our atonement. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Paul reminded the Romans “that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The Bible teaches that Christ was the Christian’s substitute at Calvary.
The full meaning of the substitutionary death is understood by examining the two Greek words translated “for” as they are used in the phrase “Christ died for our sins.” The first Greek word, anti, is usually translated “instead of,” as “Christ died instead of us for our sins.” The second preposition, huper, is sometimes used when the sufferings and death, of Christ are spoken of “in behalf of” our sins.
Christ died (anti) for our sins is found in Matthew 20:28, and Mark 10:45. Christ died (huper) in my behalf is found in John 10:11, 15; 11:50; Romans 5:8; 8:32; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 2:20; 3:13; Titus 2:4. The theologian Shedd makes a significant observation:
The preposition (anti) excludes the idea of benefit or advantage, and specifies only the idea of substitution. The former (huper) may include both ideas. Whenever the sacred writer would express both together and at once, he selects the preposition huper. In so doing, he teaches both that Christ died in the sinner’s place, and for the sinner’s. benefit (Dogmatic Theology, p. 382).
Substitute for the church
Christ also gave himself for the church. In doing so, he portrayed one aspect of a man’s responsibility in the home. Paul told the Ephesian men, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). In one sense, the church is the corporate body of believers, and when Christ suffered for all, he suffered for the church.
Substitute adequate for every person
The blood of Jesus Christ was enough for the sins of every man. The Bible talks of seeing Jesus “who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). This word “taste” means to “partake fully; not just sip.” There is not a man who has ever lived on the face of the earth who was beyond the hope of salvation. No man has to suffer for his own sins, because Jesus has already died in his place. In that sense, the Bible teaches that he died for everyone.