Jesus did, to be sure, suffer abuse “vicariously” on our behalf–the Just One on account of the unjust multitude. But even more surely, this vicious abuse was not at the hand of God but of Satan, the “Great Dragon” who wishes to destroy the Son of Mankind and his seed! God’s Chosen and Anointed One bore the humiliating crime of the cross, instigated by the Adversary, so that his Father could openly demonstrate in the most persuasive and endearing manner conceivable the overwhelmingly overcompensating magnitude of his righteousness by rescuing Jesus from the inveterate foe of humanity and yanking his stinger out forcefully.
Viewed from this apostolic perspective, we can finally clearly grasp and precisely fathom what this “vicariousness” shields us from: not the wrath of God but the fury of Satan.
By “paying” such a “vicarious” ransom to our diabolical captor, Jesus effected a de facto exchange that Satan by no means intended, but which his foolishness could not forestall: we went free! Hallelujah!
However, the exact mechanics of this liberation bears closer scrutiny. By suffering this radically unjust abuse and death, Jesus won for us, as our divine champion, the compensatory award (δικαιωμα) of agelong life, including the present, phenomenal down payment of that future allotment: the promised Wholesome Spirit. This charisma (χαρισμα), in all its variegated splendor (especially against the backdrop of a creation in the throes of remorseless entropy) is the empirical right of all those who by mere (!) faith are honored by a just God with the status of sons and heirs in His future Kingdom. It is precisely this gift (δορημα) of agelong life, including its foretaste in Wholesome Spirit, that liberates us from Satan’s authority because it both frees us from slavery via fear of death and furnishes an internal power source to resist Satan’s corrupting blandishments.
This means that the divine solution to the “problem of sin” comes by way of the reversal of the death sentence against our sin, as fully and satisfactorily proved by the pouring of agelong life–along with its undeniable evidences, including the performance of signs, miracles, powers, and healings–into the hearts of all who get sprinkled with the innocent blood of Messiah, by faith.
Thus our sins actually, amazingly, get indemnified and removed, erased, cleaned off, released/forgiven, by the very “stuff” from which our sins alienated us…life itself! The innocent blood of the Lamb of God does everything for us! It is God’s UNIVERSAL ANTIDOTE (i.e., to “give” “in answer/response” to, or counter, a poison)! It solves everything redemptively. It absolves of wrongdoing. It resolves alienation. It dissolves opposition. In the blood of Messiah is agelong life, salvation, justification, forgiveness, sanctification, deliverance, freedom, cleansing, erasure (of sins), peace, conciliation, ransom, and more! This blood is figured in the water, wine, and oil of immersion and the Lord’s Supper, and therapeutic anointing. The life/soul is in the blood. Thus in permitting the guilty shedding of his own innocent blood on our behalf, Messiah surrendered his Jewish flesh to injustice only to win it back again, glorified beyond ethnicity, along with a justly overcompensated surplus of life to give away gratuitously to whoever wants it, regardless of ethnic or national origin or any fleshly distinction whatever between human beings.
In sum, Jesus suffered the abuse of Satan’s full fury “vicariously” for us so that we might escape death, thus the fear of death, thus slavery to Satan and sin. But did this effect an escape from God’s wrath, which burns against sin? The answer to this “burning” question must be “yes and no.” No, if you mean this “vicarious” fact “deflects” God’s indignation away from our sins (and we must be warned against mistaking God’s delay or stay of execution for “deflection“); but yes, if you mean that this “vicarious” shedding of innocent blood for guilty flesh effects removal of sin from the guilty sinner, thus removing the cause for wrath.
It is this simple distinction that accounts for the seriousness with which the early church took the Lord’s Supper. For here they were collectively feeding on the flesh and blood of the Good Shepherd/Lamb of God who hereby takes away sin. [4/10/06]
Yet for all this “vicarious” action by Jesus the Messiah on our account, there is not the slightest hint of a “penal” substitution. “Penal substitution” is premised on a compromised notion of God’s righteousness that imagines it appearing at the Cross, though in fact God did not show up until three days later to play His hand by ipso facto CONDEMNING THE CROSS as a horrible miscarriage of justice…in fact, an out-and-out mortal sin! Even so, nothing that can’t be corrected by a little divine power and timely action.
This was the secret hidden before all ages, now unveiled for our wonderment and salvation!
Yet in this connection, there is still one more piece of the “puzzle” that theologians have made out of “the atonement“ that, once we see how it fits, will take our breath away!
At the Cross there is not the slightest hint of “penal” or “punitive” action against Jesus’ enemies and killers. This must be absorbed at full value before we can adequately appreciate Messiah’s abuse for what it really was: SATAN’S SIN. For God all along knew who the ultimate enemy was. Therefore He did not go after Satan’s pawns; He was laying a trap for big game. After all, Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it! These are collateral benefits of destroying the works of Satan.
Vindictive human justice predictably would have ladled out reprisals, punitive overcompensations, penal “satisfactions” as the price of the crime of the Cross. Christ’s enemies should have “paid for” their premeditated enormity! God should have crushed them with brimstone and incinerated them with fire from heaven! Whoa! All in good time…
Are we disappointed? Are we unsettled, un”satisfied” that God did not come forth with evident penal, punitive retribution to “fully satisfy” His wrath on those wretches? Isn’t it enough that He fully exposed Satan’s intended trickery and forever crushed his head, shattered his authority over Adam’s heretofore irretrievably doomed offspring? Must He also vent Himself on Satan’s wretched slaves and dupes?
What an injustice that would have been! Petty reprisals are beyond the intentions of the Savior of the world. Yet did we perhaps expect God, alternatively, to unleash that anger upon His own obedient Son as a “substitute,” somehow, for not doing it to his embittered, envious enemies? How hideous. The work of total obedience was completely finished at the Cross; all that was now called for–all that Messiah’s absolutely innocent blood (i.e., “just soul”) was “crying out” for was proper avenging! This observation necessarily implies that no avenging of any sort–especially no penal satisfaction, no punitive action whatsoever–by his Father could conceivably have been present to sully the pure, stark, stunning faithfulness, obedience, subjection, surrender, or love of Jesus, openly, publicly, uniquely exhibited on that cursed tree…of…LIFE! Yet to see the Cross as the key to agelong life we must see how it was indissolubly linked to the impending Resurrection that would actually set things right, restoring the harmony of the created universe disrupted by sin. Once this cosmic fact is clearly grasped, every deficient impulse to compromise the purity of the crucifixion of Messiah with punitive, penal overtones will melt away in the beaming sunshine of divine love–both Son’s and Father’s–radiating Their saving wisdom.
So, Peter Abelard was right…but only half right; he was right about the Cross but wrong in his silence about the Resurrection. Yet if he had that detail wrong (or out of view), Anselm was no less wrong. For although he would surely have sensed Abelard’s explanation to be incomplete, yet he himself presumed to add words without knowledge and ventured far beyond the apostolic pattern of sound explanations. (This, at least, Abelard did not dare to do at this point.) Yet both suffered virtual blindness about the justifying significance of Messiah’s resurrection. Even Paul Peter Waldenström, who perhaps came closest of all writers since the early Ante-Nicene church, and until the late 20th century, to understanding the nature of the atonement, did not fully appreciate this connection.
All penal, punitive theories of the atonement are dead wrong and have proven to be deadly for far too many discerning prospects who, sadly, even tragically, took offense. Is this the Devil’s revenge? Is Satan making a comeback by twisting the liberating Proclamation of God’s Kingdom into a dull, incomprehensible God-dishonoring caricature–a grotesque gargoyle, ironically, in his own infernal image? If so, then theologians have been his most amenable agents in this crafty stratagem of disinformation. They have insinuated penal motives and punitive impulses between the virgin lines of wholesome Scripture. They see penal “satisfactions” and “divine wrath” around the turn of every page. Such theological rigor is akin to rigor mortis. It reads death into the words of life!
But, sadly, there is more. By reading penal or punitive elements into the Cross they underplay, neglect, ignore, and suppress where such elements actually turned up on the historical stage, and by clear prophecies from both Old and New Testaments! For Daniel the prophet as reiterated by Jesus himself in the Olivet Discourse pointed a long warning finger in the direction of 70 A.D., one generation–“this generation“!–away from the Cross. Exactly 40 years after their execution of their Messiah, the citizens of Jerusalem below, Jerusalem “after the flesh,” having remained stubborn to the graciousness of Jehovah Who gave them this merciful reprieve, suffered the terrors of God’s punitive, penal avenging to a degree that utterly defies polite description. The “abomination of desolation” exhibits the wrath of God in no uncertain terms, with bold and bloody strokes! These pathetically doomed Jews had hardened themselves to the proffered graciousness of Jehovah in Jesus, their Messiah, during forty years of mercy, tolerance, patience, and kindness by Israel’s God. Their cup of wrath was now full and brimming over. When the Christians in Jerusalem saw what was coming, they fled in obedience to their Master’s warning a generation earlier, so they escaped the indescribably internecine slaughter.
For their murder of their own Savior Jerusalem paid with horrific suffering of brutal, merciless abuses that beggar sober description. Josephus is our window into this unleashing of divine retribution.
Yet it did not atone! Their national destiny was irreversibly cut off. The covenant with Jewish Israel was over and done with, having been exhausted in the covenantal curses against her national ethnic disobedience and, finally, their inflicted coup de “grâce”–hanging “the King of the Jews” on an inglorious gibbet for all to mock, scorn, and shame. This singular culminating crime sealed their spiraling doom. God henceforth chose all who believe His Emancipation Proclamation concerning Jesus to be His new nation and inherit allotments in His future kingdom.
Here, then, was “penal” recompense or divine avenging, yet “satisfaction” hardly covers the goods. Where do we ever read that such outpouring of righteous indignation are “satisfying” to God, (i.e., as “paying off” a debt)? Such tragedies are only cause for mourning, for the staggering losses are irreversible. “The indignation of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness.” It may be mercifully delayed, but not averted from stubborn, unrepentant sinners.
What “satisfied” God was His Son’s obedience regardless of the torments inflicted by the ones his love sent him to save. Satan was remorseless and hopeless, so will suffer for the ages of the ages the torments of the Lake of Fire. Human beings who refuse to accept God’s appointed means for getting rid of their sins will also be tormented commensurate with their sins and be ultimately consumed by the fires of judgment. This is no small loss. Some measure of it can be gauged by the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that attends the contemplation, while in the Unseen, of their own final extermination in light of what they might have had–agelong joy, life, glory, and rule over a new earth where no injustice will exist to diminish happiness. What a loss! What a destruction! Yet how great a SALVATION is ours who keep on trusting and obeying! [4/11/06]