Christ as Substitute
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a substitute?
Consider with me for a moment the famous scene from Indiana Jones. Jones is trying to steal a golden idol, and to take that idol, he must put something of equal weight in its place quickly to spare himself from triggering all the traps set to keep the idol from being stolen. Spoiler Alert: This was a bad substitute as the sensors picked up on the weight differences and panic ensued.
Like Jones, we often try to make a substitute for our sin that doesn’t fully satisfy God’s righteous demands. There is One substitute that is sufficient for us, yet we cling to other idols, thinking they’ll do the trick. Let’s look today at what Scripture has to say about this Substitute who makes amends for our sins.
Old Testament Substitution
Throughout the Old Testament, we see examples of substitution, as God allows substitutes to take man’s place as a foreshadow of the ultimate Substitute who would come later.
A powerful instance of a substitute we see in Scripture is found in Exodus 12 with the Passover lamb. While God was enacting the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt, He informed the people that a plague was coming which would kill all firstborn sons in Egypt. The Israelites were to spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts showing that blood had been shed on behalf of their firstborn sons to atone (make amends) for them. When the Lord passed through Egypt killing all the firstborn sons, He would spare those in the homes where blood had already been shed because the lamb’s blood was shed instead of the blood of the firstborn son. The lamb that was killed served as a substitute, allowing the firstborn to live.
God continued to allow the people of Israel to make atonement for their sins through the substitution of an animal (Lev. 1-7). But these sacrifices were never sufficient to fully atone for sin.
In Isaiah 53, God promises that a Substitute would come to bear the sins of mankind. Verses 4-6 state:
“Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.”
We see here an emphasis on pronouns. This should not be overlooked. Who has gone astray? Who has turned toward idols? Us. It was our iniquities and transgressions that He suffered for, shedding light on the fact that it was not His own sins that He was carrying. So, who is He? Who is this Substitute that shed His blood for us?
New Testament Substitution
Hebrews 9 says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins, and in Hebrews 10:4, we see that, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” This brings us to the spotless Lamb whose shed blood can forgive sins.
In John 1, John the Baptist leaves no room for doubt when he emphatically declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He shouts this when Jesus steps onto the scene. Jesus, God incarnate and the second person of the Trinity, is the perfect, spotless Lamb who must endure the cross in our place. The lamb in Exodus 12 is only a temporary remedy, while here we have a permanent solution. Jesus is the He who is talked about in Isaiah and other Old Testament prophecies! Without Him, we are without hope and would have to make regular sacrifices to atone for the sins we daily commit.
What does this mean for us today?
Romans 3:23 reminds us that, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That’s you. That’s me. Therefore, blood must be shed to cover the sin we commit—past, present, and future. Let that sink in for a moment. You have sinned. You need a substitute. One has been provided through the death of the spotless Lamb whose blood was shed on your behalf.
What idol are you constantly trying to substitute for God? There is no hope in the fleeting things of this world because none of them can make amends for your sins. The one thing that can make amends for your sin is Christ. Repent and believe in Him, and He will be your substitute. Your perfect, sufficient, always Substitute.
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall now be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exalt in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11
If you’re interested in further study, here are some helpful resources:
1. Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach
2. Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul by Simon Gathercole