The heart of the atoning events that Christians commemorate this week is not that God punished Messiah Jesus instead of punishing sinners, but that GOD SAVED JESUS INSTEAD OF PUNISHING THE SINNERS WHO CRUCIFIED HIM! This is clearly kind of “substitution,” but with a very different ambience from the “penal” variety! What a total surprise was this denouement! What a colossal shift in the balance of power expected from previous earthly shows of force! This unearthly spectacle of celestial justice has no peer before or since! But what shall we call this type of “substitution”? Since the stroke of God was not penal or punitive but vindicating and exalting—not a handling of a club but a handing of a scepter—perhaps “restorative” or “overcompensating” substitution would be better. For Messiah was not punished by God for our sakes but RESCUED and SAVED and JUSTIFIED by God FOR OUR SAKES! NOT A REPRESENTATIVE DESTRUCTION BUT A REPRESENTATIVE SALVATION IS WHAT GOD WANTED TO DISPLAY IN MESSIAH! How on earth did this heavenly truth get cast down and trampled?
NOT COMPENSATORY VIOLENCE BUT OVERCOMPENSATING VINDICATION constitutes the heartthrob of the Evangel. These two positions are totally incompatible!
Even so, there is punishment enough in the Proclamation of Jesus, the Messiah, yet at the moments of his vindicating Resurrection and Exaltation, that was still forty years in the future—the Desolation of Jerusalem prophesied by him just before his own rejection there.
This succession of human and divine judgments places discrete elements along a narrative sweep rather than in some abstract aevum of theory.
There is a snare inherent in not following this narrative sequence as the Holy Spirit lays it out in Scripture. For then, e.g., we may faultily conclude that there is no evident punishment declared for those who reject the Proclamation of God. Far from it! All who play fast and loose with the graciousness of God unveiled in this Proclamation are in imminent danger of fiery extermination! This truth should hardly need to be stressed to anyone familiar with the New Testament but for its possibly getting eclipsed by the shimmering truth about the total absence of any Divine penal element at the Cross. Yet a potential overreaction against the vaunting of penal “orthodoxy” runs the risk of softpedaling the wrath of God’s final punishment altogether. Let’s try to get the sequencing and emphasis right once and for all lest any essential gets overlooked or misplaced as we joyfully recount the marvelous redemptive events of “Good Friday” and Resurrection Sunday. [5/15/06]