Christ’s Example of Unjust Suffering: Substitutionary Atonement
1 Peter 3:18
1 Peter Lesson #105
September 14, 2017
“Our Father, we’re thankful we have this time to come together to fellowship around Your Word. We thank You that our fellowship is with You because of what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross. Father, we’re thankful that as we confess sins, we’re instantly forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness.
“Father, we indeed pray for our nation. These storms that have hit the country—Irma and Harvey—have devastated many areas of the country and many people. The federal government will be coming in with a lot of money. The state government is coming in, and the money is not there because we’re running such a deficit. So, Father, we need to pray for wisdom on the part of the government, on the part of national, state, local leaders.
“We also pray for this situation that Alan mentioned about three churches in Texas that are suing the government because they were places where evacuees could go and shelter, and they are not receiving funds from the government because they are churches. Father, we need to pray that that would be settled—as well as some of the other critical legislation that did not get passed in the special session. We need to pray for wisdom on the part of people to think in terms of what used to be just common sense.
“Father, we pray for us as we study Your Word. As we hear the light of Your truth, may we respond to it, that our thinking would be overhauled and transformed. As Your Word illuminates us, may we come to a greater appreciation and understanding of all that You have done for us, especially in our salvation. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We are in 1 Peter 3:18. There is so much that we can find in 1 Peter 3. This next section that goes from 1 Peter 3:18 down through 1 Peter 3:22 is a crucial section, and it is not a simple section. It is a complex section. It has a major point that is pretty simple, that we are to endure unjust suffering in humility in the same way that our Lord Jesus Christ did. That is the sub-theme. That’s why we have verse 18.
Coming out of the end of 1 Peter 3:18, Peter talked about Jesus, “made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached”—something—“to the spirits in prison.” Then, it goes on. It relates this to Noah and to baptism and angels and these authorities. What does all this have to do with suffering? That’s going to be an important question to talk about.
In fact, a number of interpretations have gone down through church history that make us wonder what these people were reading and what their understanding was. In the early church by the end of the second century, a dominant interpretation that was prominent throughout most of the Middle Ages was that this idea of Jesus going to preach to the spirits was a second chance offer of the gospel to those who lived before Noah and had rejected Noah’s message. How they get that, I don’t know, but that has been a dominant view, that this was a second chance offer. Another odd ancient view was that Christ preached to these spirits at the time of Noah; and through Noah, He was preached to that sinful generation.
We understand this to mean that Jesus, after the crucifixion, went to Hades to proclaim His victory over sin and death to those angels who had left their first estate. They had taken on the form of human bodies. Genesis 6 calls them “the sons of God.” They were subsequently imprisoned as divine judgment, divine punishment, at that particular time.
We have to deal with all of these very, very interesting things. If just dealing with some of those theological issues wasn’t enough, there are several critical textual problems in the passage. There are grammatical ambiguities, words that don’t seem to be as clear in the Greek as we would like them to be, these lexical vagaries. It all adds up to difficulty in interpretation, so we’re going to be in these five verses for more than one or two nights.
We need to address basic questions. If you’ve gone through the Bible Study Methods class, you have basic questions that you ask in any passage. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? Those are the basics for any study. When we apply that to this, we have to ask, at the end of 1 Peter 3:18, just exactly what does it mean “to be made alive by the Spirit?” That’s a contrast to “being put to death in the flesh,” so we need to understand what that means.
In 1 Peter 3:19, “by whom we believe” probably refers to the Spirit. “He went and preached ...” Where did Jesus go? He went somewhere. Where did He go? What did He do when He got there? To whom did He make this proclamation? Who are these spirits in prison? What did He say when He made this proclamation? Ultimately, we have to determine, what does all of that have to do with Noah, with the ark, with them being “saved through water?” The baptism referenced in 1 Peter 3:21, what does that have to do with anything? Is it connected to the resurrection of Jesus Christ?
It’s going to be a lot of fun because, ultimately, when we look at this passage and read this passage, we can’t interpret it just as if it stands alone. It stands in an epistle where everything has to connect back to the basic theme of unjust suffering. When we talk about this, we have to relate it back to that. We can’t just take these five verses and start understanding them as if they exist in a vacuum. That’s going to be fun as well. Let’s start working our way through this.
In tonight’s lesson, we’re going to focus on substitutionary atonement. There are two key ideas in the first half of 1 Peter 3:18, and that has to do with substitutionary atonement. The idea of substitution is one idea, and the idea of atonement is a secondary idea. I’ve underlined and italicized “substitutionary” in the opening slide because that’s the key idea we need to focus on this evening.
1 Peter 3:18 reads, “For Christ also suffered once for sins,”—plural—“the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit …” The sentence doesn’t end there, so we have to go on to verse 19. “… by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,”—keeps going—“who formerly were disobedient, when once the divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.” When we look at 1 Peter 3:20, we have to understand that in Peter’s thinking, that was all connected to his main idea, this unjust suffering that Christ went through that is the explanation of why we, too, should undergo unjust suffering without complaining or griping or any of those things.
Let’s start working our way through the passage. It starts off with the word “for.” In English, we often use the word “for” in a lot of different senses. In fact, we’re going to find it twice in this verse, and each “for” translates a different Greek word and has a completely different meaning. Isn’t English fun? A word like “for” or “in” can have a whole range of meanings, and we have to figure out what they mean.
Guess what? The Hebrew is not any clearer. Neither is the Greek! That’s why context is so important. I remember, when I started seminary and was studying Greek, thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be great. I’m going to learn the original language and solve problems.” I may have solved some problems, but I opened up a whole other box of problems.
It starts off with the word HOTI, which is not the word HINO. HINO is an explanation, giving a reason for something. It is very close in that idea. It has the idea of giving the cause, of answering the question, “Why?” The question began in 1 Peter 3:17, which also begins with a HOTI. “For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” Most people would say, “Why do I have to suffer at all?” Right?
Peter was saying, “Because ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.’ ” You’re not anything special because you’re just and you’re suffering in an unjust manner because so did the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the pattern for how we’re to handle unjust suffering. Peter said, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.” This takes us back, actually, to a previous passage where he talked about the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2:21, which begins with a HOTI also. “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us.”
This verse has two English words “for,” but they reflect two different Greek words. The first “for” is a “because.” “To this you were called.” God has called us to this. This is part of our identity, our purpose, and our destiny as believers. “… because Christ also suffered for us.” Same three-letter English word, but the second “for” is a translation of a word we will hear again and again tonight, and that’s this preposition HUPER.
HUPER and one other preposition, ONTI, are the two important prepositions for understanding substitution, and that is, as we will see, important in understanding the nature of what happened on the Cross. This transaction that took place is one that was substitutionary. We will get to that in just a minute. HUPER indicates that Christ also suffered on behalf of us or for us.
As Peter said in verse 21, “… Leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” He basically said the same thing again in 1 Peter 3:18. In fact, we have three different Christological passages in 1 Peter that are important.
1 Peter 1:18–21 is important. “… knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” That’s the first Christological passage in Peter.
The second one comes up in 1 Peter 2:21–25, again talking about Jesus Who is totally just.
He suffered for us, giving us an example. A quote from Isaiah 53:9 says, “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth,” again, developing the theme that He was totally righteous and undeserving of His suffering. We get the third major passage on Christology in 1 Peter 2:18–22.
The second key word that we need to look at here—“for” was a first word we looked at in 1 Peter 3:18—is this word “suffered.” I think everybody here knows what suffering is, but maybe you don’t. Suffering is experiencing adversity. In the context, this is an undeserved adversity, and it’s a serious adversity.
There are all kinds of adversities, and some people don’t like to use the word suffering to describe their adversities, but that’s just arrogance talking because the Bible describes a whole range of adversity as suffering. Some of it is extremely intense; some of it is mild. Whenever it has its source in something or someone that is targeting us because of our Christianity, it fits this kind of suffering that is related to the suffering of Jesus Christ.
The word that is translated “suffering” is the one in this light blue box over here on the right, PASCHO, which has its basic sense of to suffer or to endure suffering. This keyword in 1 Peter was used eleven times. Whenever we have a short epistle of five chapters and a word is used eleven times—a noun or a verb—that tells us, “This is important.” The repetition of that word tells us that this is a major theme in 1 Peter, that suffering is part of the spiritual life directed toward a goal, an important goal.
As we get into these verses, it is important to understand this. I’m going to give four basic summary points here.
1. First of all, this relates to the basic argument of 1 Peter that we have to follow Christ’s pattern in responding and reacting to unjustified suffering. The example of His unjustified suffering on the Cross is our standard. That’s our reference point. What Peter developed here is directly related to understanding the biblical teaching or instruction or doctrine of substitutionary atonement, understanding the Just suffering in the place of the unjust.
2. Second of all, the passage is designed to provide us a rationale for unjust suffering. When we encounter unjust suffering, undeserved suffering, we can then think through what that means. We can think it through in terms of what Christ went through, and that’s our pattern. That sets the SOP—the standard operating procedure—for how we are to respond to undeserved suffering.
3. The third thing we see is that this transitions. The reason for our handling this goes to the Cross and is part of our transition from Phase 2 in this life to our being brought to God. Christ suffered—the Just for the unjust—for the purpose that He might bring us to God.
4. Many times, suffering has a purpose that goes far beyond anything we might imagine. It has a universal and a spiritual and an eternal impact that we can’t fathom. We get all upset and complain and gripe and get in a bad mood because something happens. It may be something serious. God is orchestrating it so that it can work together for good with other things and bring about something glorious in His purpose that we may not understand until we get to Heaven.
We also see as we look at this that Christ went through unjust suffering, but it wasn’t a defeat. The Cross was not a defeat. For Christ to go through this undeserved suffering was not a failure. It was a victory! It gave Him victory over sin and death, and that was the content of His victorious proclamation when He went to the spirits in 1 Peter 3:19. Christ’s unjust suffering was not a defeat but a victory. Our undeserved suffering in our spiritual lives is not a defeat. It’s not a failure. It is a victory. It is our opportunity to have victory in that situation that is going to reverberate and resonate throughout all of history.
We learn in this section that unjust suffering is connected to a testimony that we have in the angelic conflict. Thus, persevering in unjust suffering is victory over Satan and the fallen angels. We don’t have victory in this superficial thing that’s popular in a lot of churches about spiritual warfare—taking dominion over Satan and all of that. We have victory by walking by means of the Spirit in the midst of undeserved suffering because that provides a testimony before the angels in this angelic conflict.
That was where Peter was going in these next four verses. It begins, “For Christ also suffered ...” There’s a textual problem here. A textual problem is when another word has entered into the manuscript tradition. Some manuscripts don’t have the word “suffer.” They have this word.
I’ve put this down at the bottom of the screen, so you can see the difference between the two words. The word that we have in the text is translated “suffered,” but there is a word in a number of manuscripts that is very similar. The only difference is two letters that enter in the second half of the word. Instead of EPATHEN, we find in some manuscripts APETHANEN, just two letters different. EPATHEN, the word we have here, is the word for suffering; it’s the aorist form of PASCHO. APETHANEN is the aorist for “to die,” APOTHNÉSKÓ. Does it mean that Christ suffered or that Christ died?
We can look at it and say, “Either one could be true contextually.” “For Christ also died once for sins”—that makes perfect sense. There’s nothing different theologically there, but contextually, when we look at it, this is an illustration. He was giving a reason why we go through unjust suffering, and not all unjust suffering includes death. So, EPATHEN, suffering, is the broad category. Dying is just one form of suffering.
The theme of 1 Peter is EPATHEN. That is in older manuscripts. It’s in the majority of manuscripts. It makes much better sense contextually, and it’s consistent with the author’s vocabulary. Most textual critics take EPATHEN. Whether you’re a Majority Text person, or whether you’re a Critical Text person, EPATHEN is the preferred choice there.
When we look at this idea of suffering using the word PASCHO, many times we talk about Christ’s death on the Cross. He died on the Cross for our sins. We go on and on, using that more narrow term, but if we go back to the Gospels and other Epistles, we find that the Apostles and Jesus used PASCHO much more than they used the word died.
For example, Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed …” It’s a different word there for being killed, but the word PASCHO was used by Jesus in Matthew 16:21.
In Matthew 17:12, we also have the word suffer. Jesus said, “Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.” It is used in Mark 8:31, 9:12; Luke 9:22, 17:25, 22:15, 24:26, 46; Acts 1:3, 17:3. It’s a very common word that Jesus used and that the Apostles used to describe what happened on the Cross, not just His death, but the suffering that took place there.
“For Christ also suffered …” The next word is the word “once.” This is an extremely significant word. As we will see as we go through this verse, this verse is pregnant with significance. That imagery is of someone who is about to give birth to something that is quite robust. That’s what we see in this passage. Many ideas are embedded in this verse, so we have to take it apart so we can fully understand and appreciate everything that’s here.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins …” This is the word HAPAX in the Greek. It can indicate something once or once for all. Theologically, it’s an extremely important and significant word because there is a lot of debate in theological circles, especially between Protestants and Catholics, over this idea of Christ dying once. Those from a Roman Catholic background every week celebrate mass, and every week, in the mass, Christ dies again. If you go to a Roman Catholic Church, you will discover that they have a crucifix, and on the cross is the Savior. He is still on the cross. He didn’t die once for sins. He dies again and again and again and again for sins.
That’s one of the major errors and heresies in Roman Catholic theology, that Jesus didn’t once for all settle the issue of sin by His death on the Cross; it has to be ongoing. It’s related to their failure to understand eternal security because it’s not fully paid for yet. How do you know when you’re saved? When you’ve got enough good works? You don’t! Jesus has to keep dying for those week after week because you have to keep getting the benefits through the mass week after week after week. In the Reformation, this was one of those terms that the reformers camped out on, indicating that Christ’s work on the Cross was complete, sufficient, and finished so that it is not repeated. When you go to a Protestant church, they don’t have a crucifix with Jesus on the Cross. They have an empty Cross because the Savior died once for all and finished paying for sins on Golgotha.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins.”
We’re going to get into some really fun stuff here and really crucial stuff here, stuff that, if you’re just reading in the English, you sort of glance over because you miss all of the underlying things that are going on here. Once again, we find that word “for,” but this is not the word HUPER that we saw earlier. It’s not the word HOTI. It’s not the word HINA.
The English word here is an accurate translation, but it’s translating a different preposition. It’s translating this preposition here, PERI. “Christ also suffered once for sins …” Now the two prepositions in Greek that are important for understanding substitutionary atonement are HUPER and ANTI—ANTI, like antichrist, a substitute in the place of Christ. But this isn’t ANTI, and this isn’t HUPER; it’s PERI. What in the world is going on here? Why do we have Peter using the word PERI here instead of HUPER?
Actually, he did use HUPER, but in the next phrase when he said, “the just for the unjust,” the Just in place of the unjust. What’s the difference between suffering once for sins, PERI HAMARTION, and for—in place of—the unjust? What’s happening here? One thing we need to understand is that Peter understood the Old Testament better than you or I do, but his understanding of the Old Testament was primarily not a Hebrew text but the Greek text.
The Greek text that he used we call the Septuagint. The Septuagint, according to legend, was translated by seventy rabbis in seventy days, or at least the Torah was—the Pentateuch. The word for seventy is SEPTA, so the Septuagint was the seventy. That’s what it was named for.
When they translated some of the Old Testament, these seventy rabbis understood Hebrew, they understood the target language they were translating to, and they used PERI HAMARTION because they understood something. As you read through the Bible and you read about the burnt offerings and you read about the trespass offerings and you read about the sin offerings and the grain offerings—all those different things—it uses—we will look at a couple of verses here—several different phrases in English to communicate that idea of substitution or with reference to something or concerning something. The Greek phrase that they used to translate that was PERI HAMARTION.
Peter was showing his understanding and relating Christ’s suffering on the Cross to the sin offering in the Old Testament. Remember, he was writing to Jewish background believers. They understood that also. You and I are Gentiles. You’ve read this maybe five, ten, fifteen times in your life, you’ve heard this verse quoted, and you didn’t have a clue it had anything to do with Leviticus, did you? That’s the problem with being a goy. We’re just not educated well enough to pick up on these things, but the Holy Spirit wants us to pick up on these things.
It should be translated as I have it here in the slide. “For” is a simple way, but a little more precise would be “concerning” or “with reference to sins.” Christ not only died for sin, the principle of sin, Adam’s original sin, but He also died, paid the penalty, for sins in the plural, that is, all personal sins. His suffering was with reference to sins.
He was not dying in the place of sin, so it wouldn’t be right to use a substitutionary preposition there, but it is correct in the next phrase. Someone Who has just suffered and died for someone who is unjust. It’s unjustified suffering, and that’s the theme of Peter. Peter wanted us to talk about and think about how we respond to undeserved and unjustified suffering.
In this slide, I’m reinforcing the idea that this phrase, PERI HAMARTION, was used with reference to sacrifices. In Hebrews 5:3, the writer of Hebrews was writing to Jewish-background believers who were formerly priests. These people really knew the laws of sacrifices. They were part of the priesthood; they had a Levitical background. A lot of things in Hebrews relate to the sacrificial system in the Old Testament.
In Hebrews 5:3, we read, “Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself”—He was talking about the high priest on the Day of Atonement—“to offer sacrifices for sins.” He had to offer sacrifices for sins. The writer of Hebrews was tying what Jesus did to what happened at the Day of Atonement.
The same thing happens in Hebrews 10:26. “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” That goes to the unintentional versus intentional sinning that was dealt with on the Day of Atonement. It paid for the unintentional sins.
We are going to take a minute to think about Leviticus 5:6. In fact, you might turn in your Bibles to Leviticus. We’ll go back to the Old Testament. I’ve always thought that I’m somewhat of a dinosaur, but now I’m a heretic. Among the modern church-growth people, apparently there are two things that they really don’t like. They don’t think we need to go to the Old Testament at all, that just teaching the Old Testament is something akin to being a Judaizer. That’s what we get in a lot of these evangelical “brand X” churches.
The other thing is wearing a coat and tie. In fact, I’ve recently heard that with a whole lot of these big television evangelists, the whole move is to be as casual as they possibly can. If they are wearing sandals and cutoffs and a T-shirt for Sunday morning service, they are overdressed. Apparently, Joel Osteen wears a coat and tie every Sunday, so all these church-growth pastors are banding together to convince him that that’s somehow heretical, that he shouldn’t do that.
This is where our culture is going. Rather than the church setting a standard to raise everybody up out of the gutter, the church is setting the standard to lower everybody into the gutter and to dumb everything down so that Christians are even less informed than non-Christians.
We are going to look at the Old Testament because it’s important for understanding the New Testament. In Leviticus 5, we have the trespass offering and the description of the trespass offering. We’re going to highlight a couple of words and terms that are used here.
It starts off in the beginning in the first five verses talking about what happened if a person did a variety of different things that rendered him ritually unclean. I just want to remind you of this because a lot of people don’t understand this. They think that ritual uncleanness equaled a sin, but that’s not true. If they touched a dead body—if a mother or father died and they fell down weeping on their carcass—that would render them spiritually unclean, but that was not a sin.
If they ate shellfish, if they ate shrimp, lobster, or crab, that would make them spiritually unclean. If they had a bacon cheeseburger, that would render them spiritually unclean. But these were not sins! There’s a difference between ritual uncleanness and sins. Ritual uncleanness was designed, in a picturesque way, to teach about sinfulness, that many of these things that made them ritually unclean were related to the consequences of sin. Sin separates us from God, so ritual uncleanness taught about separation from God whenever we sin. That’s the spiritual reality.
The sacrifices all had to do with restoring ritual fellowship with God. Burnt offerings and trespass offerings and sin offerings had to do with restoring their fellowship with God. They were already saved, but they had to become cleansed of sin so that they could go into the tabernacle or the temple in order to worship God. That’s very, very important.
If you were like David and out with the sheep down by Bethlehem, you couldn’t start running back and forth to the tabernacle every time you sinned to get back in real fellowship with God. He would confess his sin out there with the sheep, and he would be back in fellowship with God, but the next time he came to the tabernacle, before he could worship, he would have to be ritually cleansed.
That was a picture in Israel and at the temple was the mikveh. The plural is mikva’ot. A number of mikveh outside on the Temple Mount have been discovered. It was a bathing chamber. They would walk down the steps on one side and immerse in the water to become ritually cleansed, and then they would come up the other side. They would not walk up the side where their tainted, corrupt footsteps were. They had to come up on the clean side. That’s a picture of confession, a picture of being cleansed from sin before they could worship.
It’s interesting. There was a news article last week about a Haredi family. You know what Haredi means. That’s a Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox. A Haredi family in one of the American Virgin Islands had an ahavath, which is an ultra-Orthodox synagogue. They went into the ahavath, and they got the whole family into the mikveh. They rode out the storm and were saved because they took shelter in the mikveh. I thought that was amusing.
There are all these rituals for cleansing in the Old Testament, and that’s what we have in Leviticus 5:6. “And he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin ...” That “for his sin” was translated in the Septuagint with PERI. “… for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering.” He brought a trespass offering with reference to his sin, the right offering. “So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin.” That is also probably translated PERI. Sometimes it’s not always that way, and I’m not working through my Hebrew text while I’m up here to get every preposition absolutely correct. Some of these words don’t even have a preposition with them, and they also use different ones.
The keyword that we’re going to look at eventually, because we’re talking about substitutionary atonement, is this word “make atonement.” If you’ve been around Christianity for very long, you have heard it. If you look it up in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words or look it up in some other older Hebrew dictionaries, it will give the meaning for kaphar as covering or atonement. What we need to figure out is, “Does it mean atonement or covering in these passages?”
We get the picture, maybe, of blood being placed on the top of the mercy seat as a covering. In English, we have homonyms—words that sound alike—like hear and here. We also have words that are homophones—they are spelled the same but have different meanings. Hebrew has one word that they’ve pretty much determined, kaphar, is a different word, different root, but it means pitch—like the pitch that Noah covered the ark with, not the ark of the covenant, but his ark, the big boat that he survived the Flood in.
Here are different words, but they are spelled the same and translated in English as atonement. We will see when we get there that’s a made-up word. It is made up from three English words—at – one - ment. It is the idea of bringing two people together, bringing man and God together in reconciliation. It is a theological word that the Brits made up during the Reformation.
How are we going to translate this? We have to understand that most of the time in the Hebrew the word atonement is translated into the Greek Septuagint by the word KATHARIZO, which means cleansing. Sometimes, it’s even translated forgiveness. It means to wipe the slate clean.
Now, this person was ritually cleansed. That’s what was going on here. We’re going to talk about this more and more. The priest made atonement for the sin offering with reference to his sin. He was forgiven. It’s the idea of cleansing and forgiveness. That is what’s embedded in that word.
We have this in a number of places, like Exodus 30:10. “And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns”—on the altar—“once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement; once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the Lord.” This is the word kaphar again.
It’s found in Leviticus 4:20. “And he shall do with the bull as he did with the bull as a sin offering; thus he shall do with it. So the priest shall make atonement for them.” We think of “for them” as substitutionary, but it has this preposition ‘al. I think it was Tuesday night when I was going through Psalm 18, that we saw this same preposition. I gave you a quote from one of the Hebrew dictionaries that said there are about 30 different ways this preposition is translated. That’s what I mean by ambiguity.
So how do we understand it? One of the various ways in which ‘al is translated is the idea of “for” or “in place of something” or “concerning something.” This is that same idea. It runs all the way through these first eight or nine chapters in Leviticus for the most part.
What we’re looking at now is this question, “What does the Bible teach about substitutionary atonement?” First, we have to talk about substitution.
I ran across this little cartoon today that I thought might communicate if you’re falling asleep. Somebody’s playing charades, and they unroll their little piece of paper. It says at the bottom, “As Leon unfurled the piece of paper (which says substitutionary atonement on it), he swore he would never again play charades with ministers.”
As we look at substitutionary atonement, we’re going to start with the word substitution, and then we’ll take up the word atonement. The first point has nine subpoints. We are going to define substitution, and then we’ll define atonement. Are we having fun yet? There are some great passages here. This is just rich stuff to understand what happened on the Cross.
Substitution, in our theology, refers to Christ dying in our place. He replaced us so that He paid our penalty on our behalf. We often see the idea of substitution in sports, where one player is taken out of the game and somebody else is substituted. The person who is taken out of the game doesn’t get credit for what the person who is his substitute does. That’s the difference with what happens on the Cross. Jesus went in as our substitute, and we get credit for what He did. That’s the difference. This is a much richer idea of substitution.
The first point we want to make here is that we’re explaining why we have to have substitution. Let me say something. I put this at the end rather than at the beginning, but it took almost a thousand years for the church to really figure out that Christ’s atonement was substitutionary.
a. The first point is that God’s perfect righteousness and His absolute justice demand a substitute for us that meets His righteous standard. We can’t die for ourselves. We have to have someone else die for us, someone who can give us perfect righteousness, because we are basically out of luck. We have a deficit in our bank account. It’s not even zero. It is minus a billion. We have to be given something that has positive credit to wipe out our debt. That’s the language that Paul used in Colossians 2:12 and following, that the certificate of death against us was nailed to the Cross. It was wiped out by Christ’s death.
God’s perfect righteousness and His absolute justice demanded a substitute for us that met His righteous standard so that His absolute justice could be satisfied. That’s the word propitiation. Propitiation means to be satisfied. That’s an important doctrine. You can go to a lot of churches and never once hear a sermon on propitiation. You probably will never hear the word used at all, and that’s very, very sad.
I’m pointing out here that substitution isn’t only related to atonement, which is what we think about. It’s related to propitiation. What we’re going to see is that it’s related to several other dimensions of what Christ did on the Cross. It’s related to propitiation here in the satisfaction of God’s justice because God can’t look on or have fellowship with or have a relationship with dirty, rotten, corrupt sinners.
That’s Habakkuk 1:13, where in his opening prayer Habakkuk said, talking to God, “ ‘You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness.’ ” That’s the point. God can have nothing to do with that which is sinful and that which is corrupt. Something has to stand in our place if we’re going to have a relationship with God.
Under the second point:
b. Scripture teaches that all human beings have sinned and are, thus, under the judgment of God. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned ...” That’s personal sin. We’ve also sinned in Adam. That’s Adam’s original sin, but we’ve also sinned personally on our own. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That term “glory of God” is often used as a figure of speech for God’s entire essence, for everything that God is. That’s His glory. He was saying, “Everybody has sin, and they fall short of God’s character.” We have to live up to God’s character, or we can’t have any kind of relationship with Him.
c. The only way we can stand before God is if we possess His perfect righteousness. How are we going to get His perfect righteousness? That is called imputation. What we’re seeing here is not only substitution related to propitiation but also related to imputation, that is, the crediting of Christ’s righteousness to us. We will see that in 2 Corinthians 5:20–21 as well.
d. This demands a cleansing or a purification. That’s really the idea of kaphar. We can demonstrate that. I’ll go through that probably next week, but that is so important to understanding atonement. It’s this idea of a cleansing. In the Old Testament, those animal sacrifices provided a ritual cleansing or purification, but we need a real cleansing or purification so that we can have a standing before God.
e. The Old Testament illustrated this concept of substitution through a series of sacrifices that were substitutionary in nature. They had the burnt offering. They had the grain offering. They had the sin offering and the trespass offering. All these offerings related to substitution.
For example, in Leviticus 1:3–4, we see the imagery, “If his offering is a burnt sacrifice …” The first chapter deals with burnt offerings. “If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish.” It had to picture a perfect Savior. “He shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering.” It was not burnt yet.
He brought in the bull, and he put his hand on his head, and he recited his sins. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to do that? All we have to do is close our eyes and in silent prayer identify and admit our sins to God. There is no indication this was necessarily silent prayer. It may have been. He put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, he confessed his sin, and they are transferred from him to that poor, innocent bull.
I’ll never forget the first time I was in Israel watching a film they have at the entrance to the southern gates at the Temple Mount. They show this film of what it was like for someone in the Second Temple period to be traveling during one of the feast days to Israel. They had this man walking in with his lamb. This lamb had these doe eyes, just brown eyes. This lamb hadn’t done anything. It was totally blameless!
We got that picture of what the Lord was like, just a lamb. It had not done anything [wrong], it was not worthy of any condemnation whatsoever, and it was just the sweetest, nicest, innocent lamb. Yet he would put him on the altar, put his hand on his head, recite his sins, and then kill that lamb because of what he did—or kill the bull because of what he did. That is a graphic picture! Every time they came to worship, they had to do that. It was a constant reminder that sins deserve death. That’s the picture.
“Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering.” There was a transfer. That animal was a substitute for what should have happened to him. “And it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.” What’s interesting is that we look at that in the English where it says “it will be accepted on his behalf.” That does not translate a Hebrew word. What actually is there is a preposition min and probably has the idea of separation from. That’s what min’s primary meaning is—from or separation. Min plus kaphar indicates a separation from the sin in the cleansing.
Some of the prepositions are translated with the phrase that we’re studying, which is PERI HAMARTION, which should be understood as for, or concerning, or with reference to, sins. It denotes as the Bauer Danker Arndt Gingrich Greek Lexicon says, the object or person to which (or to whom) an activity or especially an inward process refers or relates, about, or concerning. That’s the idea that Christ died with reference to or concerning sins, the personal sins. It also indicates in a number of contexts that it takes the place of HUPER. That gives us that idea.
Leviticus 5:5–6 says, “And it shall be, when he is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing”—there is confession—“and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin …” That’s one that doesn’t have a preposition. I’ll show you in just a minute. It’s probably just a lamed. “… which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning”—or with reference to—“his sin.” That would have been translated with PERI.
f. Then, we go to Isaiah 53:5–6, which clearly indicates substitution. We can read all the way through Isaiah 53 and the Suffering Servant, the Messiah, and again and again we have the idea of substitution there. In Isaiah 53:5, notice how many times we get the idea of substitution. “He was wounded for our transgressions.” That’s the preposition min. I mentioned it a minute ago.
It has to do with some sort of separation. It was just the idiom in which they expressed substitution. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” He received the punishment. The Messiah, Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the Cross got our punishment for what we’ve done. “He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace”—that is, our peace with God—“was upon him, and by His stripes we are healed.” This was talking about salvation, not about getting healed from the flu or a cold or a backache or one leg being shorter than the other.
Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him …” All it says is, “The Lord upon Him iniquity.” That preposition ‘al carries the weight to communicate the idea of substitution. Jesus clearly understood that Isaiah 53 referred to Him.
He said that in Luke 22:37. “For I say to you that this which is written”—and He quoted from Isaiah 53—“must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.” He was connecting Isaiah 53 and its fulfillment to Himself.
The next point is G. I’ve got two more after this one.
g. The Passover lamb imagery shows that the lamb died in the place of the firstborn. Remember the Exodus story? There had been nine plagues. The Egyptian culture had been decimated. Now, it was really going to be rocked because God was going to take the life of the firstborn in every family and the firstborn of all the cattle and all the sheep. There was a way to avoid the death penalty, and that was to kill a lamb that was without spot or blemish, the idea of substitution.
If they killed a lamb that was without spot or blemish and put that blood on the doorpost of the house, those who were in the house would be spared. Instead of the firstborn son being killed by God, the lamb was killed. The Passover lamb was the perfect picture of substitution. That was applied to Jesus in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Therefore, purge out the old leaven …” That was ritual cleansing.
The Day of Unleavened Bread started the day after Passover, and they removed all leaven from the house. It pictured confession. “Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
That connects Him right to that, just as John 1:29 does when John the Baptist said, “ ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ ” It’s this idea of substitution again and again and again.
Now the eighth point.
h. Christ presented Himself to serve God and mankind by giving His life as a payment price. In Mark 10:45, we have Jesus saying, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” A ransom is a payment price. Somebody gets kidnapped, somebody’s captured in battle, and someone else has to pay it off. It is a function of substitution, the money for the person. The preposition that is used here is the other preposition for substitution, ANTI, which means in place of or instead of. HUPER and ANTI are the two big prepositions for understanding substitution.
Last century, late nineteenth-, early twentieth-century, one of the foremost Greek scholars was Archibald T. Robertson. His Greek grammar, which sits at home—totally unused now—is about this thick. It’s unused because I have it electronically, and it’s much more usable, but it is this thick. It probably weighs about two pounds. He also wrote a five-volume work that is accessible to most people, and it’s called Word Pictures of the New Testament. He said about ANTI, “There is the notion of exchange also in the use of anti.” One thing is exchanged for another, a substitute for another. He said, “Those who refuse to admit that Jesus held this notion of a substitutionary death …”
This is what most liberal theologians believe. Your friends who go to a Methodist, Episcopal, some Presbyterian churches, and many Catholics, do not believe in substitutionary atonement. When they say, “Jesus died for you,” what they mean is, “Jesus died to give you a picture of how you should be devoted to your own cause just as He was devoted to His cause.” Or, “Jesus died as a moral example to you about how you should clean up your life.” That’s what they mean.
When you hear your friends say, “Oh, I believe Christ died for me,” you think that they’re actually going to go to Heaven because they believe in substitutionary atonement. They don’t! They’ve never heard of substitutionary atonement! They’ve been taught from some pantywaist preacher who believes in the moral view of the atonement, that Jesus gave you a good example of how you can live and straighten out your own life. It’s pure legalism, and it’s a gospel that is going to send them straight to hell! We’ll look at that next time.
These are the kinds of people A.T. Robertson was talking about. “Those who refuse to admit”— liberal theologians, liberal pastors—“that Jesus held this notion of a substitutionary death … [take] an easy way to get rid of passages that contradict one’s theological opinions.” They rewrite the meaning.
i. The preposition HUPER with the genitive in Luke 22:19 says, “And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them …” We hear this once a month. “… saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you.’ ” It’s the preposition HUPER. It’s given in place of you. It’s given as a substitute for you.
Romans 5:8 is another verse you’ve heard many, many times. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”—as a substitute for us. It’s the word HUPER.
Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin”—in our place—“for us.” It’s substitutionary.
j. 1 John 2:2 relates this substitution to the idea of propitiation. We saw that at the very beginning. 1 John 2:2 says, “And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins”—it’s the preposition PERI—“and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” “Not for ours” means not just for believers only, but for everyone. It is an unlimited atonement.
Next time we’re going to define the word atonement. When we get done, you might have an idea of what substitutionary atonement means. It’s an important, important concept! It’s at the heart of the gospel because Jesus died in our place and paid our penalty.
“Father, we thank You for explaining so well in the imagery of sacrifices and of the lamb what it means to have a substitute, to have our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us. He died in our place. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” The spotless Lamb of God, without sin, was punished so horribly because we sin.
“Father, that is the core the gospel, that because He took our punishment upon Himself, we can have eternal life by simply trusting in Him, accepting Him as our Savior.
“Father, we pray that you would help us to assimilate that which we’ve learned tonight and we’ve heard and that we can mull it over and think it over and come to a greater understanding of what it means when we say that Jesus died for us, that He is our substitute. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”