A careful and thorough handling of the subject of substitution is here given.
The subject of “Substitution” is not mentioned in Holy Scripture by the use of the actual word. Nevertheless, it is set forth clearly throughout the Word of God, both in principle and in fact, in varied circumstances and by the use of different words.
It is seen in the approach of Abel to God in Genesis 4:4, “And Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering.” The mention of bringing the “fat thereof” is proof of the shedding of the blood of the animal offered. While the solemn pronouncement, “the soul that sinneth it shall die,” had not yet been stated, Abel was certainly under sentence of death by reason of sin. The lamb or kid of the goats offered, died in-stead of Abel. God accepted Abel on the principle of faith and on the sole basis of approach by the shedding of the blood of an acceptable sacrifice. The sacrifice offered was surely a “substitute” for Abel, inasmuch as it died in-stead of him.
The principle of substitution is seen m a very different circumstance in the experience of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:1-13). There God provided himself a lamb for a burnt offering. Abraham went “and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son” (Gen 22:13). The words “in the stead of his son” are the English translation of the words “An tiIsaak” of the LXX version. (The Greek translation of the O.T. from the original scriptures). Both translations show that the ram died as a substitute, in the stead of Isaac.
The book of Exodus provides a clear example of the truth of substitution with which readers will be familiar. God made known to Moses His plan to deliver the children of Israel. Central to that plan was the choice of an unblemished lamb to die in the place of the firstborn who was under the sentence of death. Doubtless, firstborn ones rejoiced in the fact that they were saved from the judgment at the midnight hour, on the basis of the blood of the lamb that died in their stead. The lamb which died was the substitute for the firstborn who would otherwise have been slain.
The Old Testament abounds with other illustrations of substitution. For example:
1) The principle is clearly seen in the Levitical offerings in Leviticus 1-7. The details of the Burnt offering, Sin offering, and Trespass offerings set it forth in a most detailed manner. The sacrifice offered was accepted in the stead of the offerer, or on account of his sin.
2) When God was dealing with sinners in grace with a view to their repentance in the period between the flood and the giving of the law to Israel at Mt. Sinai, when Job lived, it is written, “Then He is gracious unto him and saith, deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.” The deliverance was only obtained by the sinner when he repented, acknowledging, “I have sinned and perverted that which was right.” (Job 33:24,27). Clearly the truth of a substitutionary ransom was known to Job and others in his day.
The opening book of the New Testament gives us an unusual circumstance where, by the use of the preposition “anti”, the truth in principle is set forth in a way conducive to a clearer understanding of the subject. In Matthew 2:22 we read, “Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room (anti) of his father Herod”. Matthew again uses the same preposition in the words, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give his life a ransom (loutron) for (anti) many (20:28). Mark also writes these words in Mark 10:45. Both writers are stressing that His life was the ransom given in the stead of the many who receive him as Savior and Lord. All such can truly say, He is my substitute, for he gave his life a ransom for me, and can add, “In rich abounding grace, he took my guilty place, with all its deep disgrace, and died for me.”
The substitutionary ransom of Christ, however, as to its availability, extends beyond the actual final number of the redeemed. This is made clear when we examine the words of Paul, “The man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom (antilutron) for (hu per) all,” in 1 Tim 2:6. The preposition (“huper”) can be used to coney the thought of “in the stead of,” when related to persons. A good example is found in 2 Cor 5:20, in the words “we pray you in Christs stead, be ye reconciled to God.” Nevertheless, “hu per” has a more extensive meaning than “anti”. It generally means “on behalf of” with the sense of “for the benefit or good of.” This is indeed the sense conveyed in 1 Tim 2:6. There is potential provision in the ransom offered to meet the need of all. This is in agreement with Gods desire that all men should be saved. His desire would be futile if there was not sufficient provision to meet the need of all. We also need to emphasize that the word for ransom in 1 Tim 2:6 is “an tilutron”, and not the word “loutron” as found in Matt 20:28 and Mark 10:45.
“Antilutron” denotes by its actual meaning, “instead of” a substitute-ransom. While it is “sufficient” for all, it is only “efficient” for believers in Christ. It is “extensive” as to its availability but only being “effective” actually for repentant sinners who receive Christ as Lord and Savior. When preaching the gospel, we should delight to tell the unsaved of the fullness of Gods provision to meet the deepest need of any and every sinner who repents toward God and exercises faith in Christ. We should avoid saying to sinners, “Christ died in your stead and suffered for your sins on the cross at Calvary.” Only the truly converted can say sincerely and scripturally, with the Apostle Paul, “The Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20), or with the Apostle Peter concerning Christ, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree”(1 Peter 2:24). During Gods future dealings with Israel only repentant Israelites, recognizing their Messiah at his manifestation, will be able to say, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed”(Isa 53:5).
Quite scripturally, and therefore properly, we tell the unsaved that, “When we were yet without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). “God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “Christ has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
Hearing these glad tidings, the repentant, believing sinner can respond with the words,
“The sinner who believes is free,
Can say, the Savior died for me,
Can point to his atoning blood,
and say, this made my peace with God.”
The truth of Substitution properly understood will place no limit on the sacrifice of Christ, either with reference to a limited number of people who obtain salvation, or limited value in relation to atonement for sin. His sacrifice once offered is eternally efficacious. He is an infinite Person, and His sacrifice is therefore of infinite value. We must always bear in mind that the defilement of sin extends far beyond the human family, due to the movements of Satan after his lightning-like fall. All trace of sins defilement will ultimately be removed from the universe, as the sacrifice of Christ is the means whereby purification, even for heavenly things will be effeded (Heb 1:3,9:23).
In concluding this brief article, I would add a personal note that: I was lost, but Christ saved me. He is now my Savior (John 4:42). I was a sheep who went astray, but Christ found me. He is now my Shepherd (John 10:11). I sinned against God, but Christ died for my sins. He is now my Sacrifice (Heb 10:14). I was a sinner, but Christ died in my place. He is now my Substitute (Gal 2:20). Hallelujah, what a Savior!