We need to fix in our minds that the atonement was an objective, historical event that first, made a change in God, and then (as a consequence) in our relationship to Him. Penal (relating to penalty) substitution means that Christ bore in substitutionary way, the penalty/punishment for our sin. This was an objective event that occurred outside of us, and is foundation for all the blessings of the atonement that flow to/in us: reconciliation, ransom, redemption, ect. It must be first seen as God-ward event, satisfying God’s need to deal justly with His wrath towards sin/sinners. (Romans 3:25)
This aspect of the atonement has been, and is, hated by critics as being ‘primitive and obscene’. "How can you preach a wrathful God in our day and age?" Because He IS a wrathful and holy God, in every age. ..and it is a horrible thing to fall into the Hands of a wrathful God.That is because they do not understand: God’s holiness, His wrath, the sinfulness of sin, God’s jealousy, and His desire to see His Name magnified above all else. This aspect of the cross makes justification possible.
The cross is about our salvation. What is the number one danger we are saved from by the cross? God Himself—His wrath. “flee from the wrath to come.” If someone casts doubt on propitiation, then they are preaching ‘another gospel’ because this is the heart of the gospel—the good news. Some see hell as ‘Christless eternity’ but He is omnipresent, and His eternal presence as a judge will be the real hellishness of hell.
8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:8-10)
Had you been an eye-witness of this event, the spiritual aspect of cross would not have been self evident—it was hidden from onlookers. Gospels, and especially epistles, explain the theology of cross. God interprets His saving event, but in form of several images to capture full riches of what happened on cross.
What atonement is NOT: payment of ransom to Satan (e.g. Origen)—payment made to God; merely moral influence/heroic theory; moral government. First is wrong, and others are partial truths presented as whole truths. Being re-recycled today.
The suffering experienced on the cross by Jesus:
1. Physical—Mark, crucifixion— 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him…. (Mark 14) That is all the text says. To first century audience, that is all that was needed to say…the specifics and horrors of it were well known and observed regularly. Thousands of people were being crucified as capital punishment. But Roman citizens not crucified because it was deemed too awful and undignified way to die.
I don’t think we have to say that Jesus suffered more than anyone, physically….though it was exceedingly awful. Others suffered just as bad, in this regard.
2. Psychological pain: due to bearing our sin was unprecedented—contradicted all He was and hated most deeply. Is. 53:6; 2Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24 (we have no sense of this, multiplied by millions) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter) 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
3. Most painful was propitiation, sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to make God favorable or propitious to us. 4 texts. Mean? Holy anger of God was poured on Christ. Hilasterion/hilasmos Rom 3:25; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10 He was cursed for us…the lights were turned off.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
We know a little bit of pain of other person venting anger at us even when innocent, which is difficult, but wrath of infinitely holy God poured out on His Son, wave after wave. Cries out. As the wooden cross has vertical and horizontal dimension, this was vertical part of atonement. It is finished !John 10:17. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
Father was satisfied by payment Is 53:11
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makesh an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seei and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.
Abandonment. Father Matt 26: 45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the landg until the ninth hour.h 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why have you forsaken Me? One of the most puzzling, troubling comments in bible. Bearing sin and wrath, Jesus is quoting Ps 22. As a man, not have understood the full extent beforehand—though in garden, He had a clear and horrible sense of it. Touching His human nature, He died. His divine nature could not die-the notion is heretical because God cannot die. Mystery of the Person of Christ as one Person, with two natures. Nobody knows the full meaning of the cry of dereliction on the cross and how it relates to both natures.
( Rom 8:1 result)
Some prominent theologians denying penal substitution in UK and USA.
Washed over liberal lie from 1920 liberalism. No wrath because divine love overcomes it all.
Next steps? Hell is not eternal. Hell gone. All are saved. IVP and Zondervan have both published books attacking the penal substitution and propitiatory nature of atonement. One man even called it—“divine Child abuse.”
Don’t retreat just because folks don’t like something. Not understanding, or even liking a doctrine (at least initially), may be good reason to believe it. Wrestling with unsettling truths can be time of accelerated spiritual growth.
God not punish believers but consequences and discipline. (Heb. Loves us…)
Ultimately cross was work of God Father who inflicted suffering, not man (Acts 2 and 4) 53:10 Is. Will we ever understand this? Human analogies fail us. Righteous burning anger poured out on innocent Son. Troubling and awe-inspiring.
Jesus’ blood represents His propitiatory death. We should not think of blood in superstitious way. John Guest once asked, “if Jesus had accidentally cut his finger, would that blood have cleansed people of sin?” Surely not-- because the blood of Jesus that cleanses us and makes demons tremble, is the cross of Christ and His propitiatory death—His penal substitution which was victorious over His enemies. (Col. 2:15) His ‘blood’ is synonymous with His atoning death on the cross—that is why the blood of Christ is often referred to, as ‘shorthand’ for atonement. It signifies His death, as did blood of animal sacrifice in OT signified it had died. The sprinkled blood was evidence that sacrifice had been killed. Need to avoid popular notions that border on superstition regarding Christ’s blood, that are disconnected from His finished work on the cross. It was His death, which the blood signifies, which makes atonement for us—reconciling, redeeming, and ransoming us. “The blood of Jesus” is precious to believers precisely because of all the benefits that His atoning death purchased for us (e.g. peace with God, victory over evil one, bold access to throne of grace, etc).
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water Trust Him and be at peace 10:19 think of Jewish person being told they could come boldly into Holy of Holies!!
Blood of Christ? Pouring out ones life/death. Here is proof that sacrifice or death occurred. Evidence of Christ paying price Rom 3:25 blood/death.
Cleanses conscience 9:14; access to God in worship and prayer 10:19 sees blood or death, 1 John 1:7 cleanses us from ongoing sin. . Rescued from futile ways of life. 1 Peter. 1:18-19
7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothersb has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Rev 12….Lamb reference to finished work of cross—Lamb of God)
Fix your minds and hearts on the objective, historical nature of the propitiatory atonement.
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.