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Gen 18:22-33; Gen 22; Rom 3:9-31; 5; 2 Cor 5:14-21

The Heart of the Cross . Many of the biblical passages which focus on the meaning of the cross, build on the idea of substitution. Our concern here will be to look at the foreshadowing of the idea of substitution in the Old Testament and its reality in the New.

Discussion questions and themes.

  1. Substitution: Old Testament forerunners. The following passages can all be interpreted in terms of substitution. To what extent would these passages prepare the New Testament reader to accept the idea of a Messiah who would die in our place?
    • Gen. 18:18-22: The righteous who could save Sodom. By the time Abraham and God were through negotiating, God had agreed that ten righteous people could save the city. Here the living righteous could save the wicked. No death would have been necessary.
    • Gen. 22: God provides the animal to die in Isaac’s place. Abraham confronted God over the possibility that destroying Sodom could cost innocent lives. But the Bible gives no clue that he was reluctant to sacrifice Isaac. Is it possible that child sacrifice was so deeply ingrained in the surrounding pagan culture, that child sacrifice was considered the highest gift to the gods? If so, God’s command was an essential step toward the great truth which became clear in Jesus Christ, namely, that God gives Himself as the sacrifice on our behalf. For additional illustrations of how deeply rooted the idea of child sacrifice was in the Old Testament see 1 Kings 3:27 (the Moabite king sacrifices his firstborn son) and Micah 6:6-8 (“Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression?”).
    • Exod. 13:11-16: Redeeming every firstborn male with a lamb. The idea of substitution is also suggested by the ritual whereby an animal is sacrificed in place of the firstborn.
  2. Substitution: New Testament Development. In the New Testament, the idea of substitution receives its most complete development in the writings of Paul. James mentions neither the sacrifice of Christ nor the idea of substitution But Paul is clear on both:
    • Rom. 3:9-31: Christ is the sacrifice for unworthy man. If the Old Testament presents law as a gracious guide to life, Paul sees it as an instrument of condemnation. Only the blood of Jesus can mediate salvation to the sinner (3:24-25).
    • Rom. 5: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (5:8-9). Romans 1-8, virtually in its entirety, represents Paul’s argument on behalf of Jesus’ substitutionary death: God provides everything; human ability counts nothing toward our salvation.
    • Rom. 8:31-39: God gave up His Son for us. The chapter opens with that great liberating statement which is the capstone to the experiential turmoil described in Romans 7: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” But the chapter ends with a ringing affirmation of all that the believer has in Christ: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).
    • 2 Cor. 5:14-21: God made Christ to be sin for us. This passage in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian believers argues forcefully that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (5:19), thus preserving the divine initiative in the work of salvation.
  3. The atonement debate among Christians. Not all Christians are enthusiastic about the idea of substitution. Indeed, some are quite hostile to the idea, declaring that the idea of substitution is of pagan origin. Those who take that position typically are attracted by another model of the atonement, one which draws its inspiration from the Gospel of John: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8, NRSV). To put the matter very succinctly, in Paul, Christ is the presenting the believer to the Father; in John, Christ is presenting the Father to the believer. The perspectives are quite different, but should be seen as complementary. (See article, “Finished,” #6 in the “Seven Words on the Cross” cluster included at the end of Lesson #8.)Question: Is it not possible that some Christians will be nurtured by one view of the cross while others will be nurtured by another? Why should we homogenize the diversity in Scripture in the interests of supporting our particular view?
  4. Ellen White on Diversity. Though not speaking specifically of atonement, the following EGW quotation argues forcefully for the idea of diversity, even in our interpretation of Scripture:

    In our schools the work of teaching the Scriptures to the youth is not to be left wholly with one teacher for a long series of years. The Bible teacher may be well able to present the truth, and yet it is not the best experience for the students that their study of the word of God should be directed by one man only, term after term and year after year. Different teachers should have a part in the work, even though they may not all have so full an understanding of the Scriptures. If several in our larger schools unite in the work of teaching the Scriptures, the students may thus have the benefit of the talents of several.

    Why do we need a Matthew, a Mark, a Luke, a John, a Paul, and all the writers who have borne testimony in regard to the life and ministry of the Saviour? Why could not one of the disciples have written a complete record, and thus have given us a connected account of Christ’s earthly life? Why does one writer bring in points that another does not mention? Why, if these points are essential, did not all these writers mention them? It is because the minds of men differ. Not all comprehend things in exactly the same way. Certain truths appeal much more strongly to the minds of some than of others.

    The same principle applies to speakers. One dwells at considerable length on points that others would pass by quickly or not mention at all. The whole truth is presented more clearly by several than by one. The Gospels differ, but the records of all blend in one harmonious whole.

    So today the Lord does not impress all minds in the same way. Often through unusual experiences, under special circumstances, He gives to some Bible students views of truth that others do not grasp. It is possible for the most learned teacher to fall far short of teaching all that should be taught.

    It would greatly benefit our schools if regular meetings were held frequently in which all the teachers could unite in the study of the word of God. They should search the Scriptures as did the noble Bereans. They should subordinate all preconceived opinions, and taking the Bible as their lesson Book, comparing Scripture with Scripture, they should learn what to teach their students, and how to train them for acceptable service.

    The teacher’s success will depend largely upon the spirit which is brought into the work…. Let not the spirit of controversy come in, but let each seek earnestly for the light…. – Counsels to Parents and Teachers, 432-33

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