Did Jesus Die in Our Place?

What the Scriptures Teach


  1. In our last lesson we introduced the problem of the substitution theory. I believe a couple quotations will easily summarize the problems we considered last time. “The great Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon said: “If Christ has died for you, you can never be lost. God will not punish twice for one thing. If God punished Christ for your sins He will not punish you. ‘Payment God’s justice cannot twice demand; first, at the bleeding Savior’s hand, and then again at mine.’ How can God be just if he punished Christ, the substitute, and then man himself afterwards?” (Boettner; The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination). The impossibility of apostasy is demanded from a belief that Jesus died as a substitution. To reject the impossibility of apostasy yet accept substitution is to not know what one is saying. Certain beliefs and doctrines have logical consequences. Spurgeon is exactly right: if Jesus is our substitute, then God cannot hold any punishment against man, regardless of our actions for God would be unjust to punish twice for the same sin.
  2. Boettner also says, “Divine justice demands that the sinner shall be punished, either in himself or in his substitute. We hold that Christ acted in a strictly substitutionary way for His people, that He made a full satisfaction for their sins, thus blotting out the curse from Adam and all their temporal sins; and that by His sinless life He perfectly kept for them the law which Adam had broken, thus earning for His people the reward of eternal life” (ibid.). He states that Christ took the full satisfaction for our sins. If so, why was Christ’s punishment different than ours? Why did Christ not suffer eternal punishment, eternal torment, and eternal separation from the Father in hell? If divine punishment was poured out, then there is nothing for us to be punished because Christ took God’s wrath rather than us. Further, Boettner states that Christ kept the law perfectly for us. Again, if Christ kept the law for me or in my place, I have no need to keep the law of God. But where does the Bible teach that Christ was keeping the law for us? Where does the Bible state that this was the reason for his sinlessness? Rather, the Bible declares Jesus needed to be sinless to be perfect sacrifice and high priest on our behalf (Eph 5:2; Phil 4:8; Heb 7:26-28).
  3. Boettner continues, “God would be unjust if He demanded this extreme penalty twice over, first from the substitute and then from the persons themselves. The conclusion then is that the atonement of Christ does not extend to all men but that it is limited to those for whom He stood surety; that is, to those who compose His true Church.” Now limited atonement is declared, yet another one of the five points of Calvinism. Jesus supposedly did not die for all people, just the ones selected by God. Yet again, the scriptures teach otherwise. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (1 John 2:1-2; John 3:16). We, unknowingly, have been indoctrinated with these concepts that are not found in the scriptures. Jesus made atonement for the whole world and offers conditions to receive atonement for sins. Some may say that they believe in substitution but there are conditions that must be met before Christ will be one’s substitute. But this end with the very same problem: if there are conditions, then Jesus died only for those who have met these conditions, which is limited atonement. The scriptures teach Jesus died for all people and all sins without condition.
  4. Finally, Boettner says, “When the Christian remembers that he was saved only through the suffering and death of Christ his substitute, love and gratitude overflow his heart; and, like Paul, he feels that the least he can offer Christ in return is his whole life in loving service. Seeing himself saved by grace alone, he learns to love God for His own sake and finds it the joy of his life to serve Him with the whole heart. Obedience becomes not only the obligatory but the preferable good.” How is the person obligated to serve? He is chosen by God, Jesus died for him, and he cannot be lost or ever fall away. Why would he have to do anything? He has no obligation for earlier he said that God cannot punish him since Christ took all of the wrath of sin! You cannot have it both ways. Substitution demands the consequence that there is nothing we can do for salvation and nothing we can do to lose our salvation. To teach obligations, commands, or conditions is to violate the very premise of substitution.
  5. In this lesson I want to look at the passages that the proponents of substitution advance that they suggest prove their concept. I will prove that they merely assume substitution, but that substitution is not the message of the scriptures at all.

I. New Testament Passages

A. Jesus became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21)

  1. “He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (HCSB). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASU). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NRSV). I think it is evident from the reading of these versions that there is nothing stated concerning Jesus dying in our place or become a substitute for us. Rather, the scriptures state that Jesus died “for us,” “for our sake,” and “on our behalf.”
  2. However, this passage is used to show that Jesus literally took his sins on himself on the cross, therefore becoming our substitute. In explaining this passage, Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Exposition Commentary says, “When Jesus died on the cross, all of our sins were imputed to Him—put to His account. He was treated by God as though He had actually committed those sins. The result? All of those sins have been paid for and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Christ as our Savior. But even more: God has put to our account the very righteousness of Christ!”
  3. Is this what is meant when Paul says that Jesus was made to be sin? Are we to think that Jesus became sin Himself and was treated by God like a sinner? If Jesus was a blemish free, spotless, most holy and righteous sacrifice, how could He actually and literally be sin or a sinner on the cross? Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus is our high priest who was tempted like us, yet without sin. If Jesus was without sin, how can we say that 2 Corinthians 5 is teaching he had sin? Hebrews 7:26-27 says that Jesus was “holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heaven…when he offered up himself.” Scholars who are not interested in defending the substitution theory realize that there is another simple meaning that fits the teachings of the scriptures.
  4. The NIV has a footnote next to the word “sin” which says, “or to be a sin offering.” The word can either mean “sin” or “sin sacrifice” and this can be seen throughout the scriptures. In Hebrews 10:6-8 we see the same usage. “IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. “THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.'” After saying above, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law)…” (NASU). Notice the words “sacrifices” in verses 6 and 8 are italicized because the original Greek word is not there. The translators added it for understanding. The text simply reads, “In whole burnt offerings and for sin….” The word “sacrifice” is added to the word “sin” in many other places, including Leviticus 6:25; 4:21,25, Isaiah 53:10, and Romans 8:2-3.
  5. The NLT is correct in its translation of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” Is there any other reasonable way to understand how Jesus became sin without violating other plain passages of scripture? If sin is on Jesus and he dies with sin on him, do we not realize the consequences of such a proposal? Jesus dying with sin on him means he is not the perfect Lamb of God, but is a broken, blemished lamb that is unacceptable to God. The Old Testament required all sacrifices for sin to be perfect and without blemish. Jesus becomes the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:26-27; 1 Peter 1:18-19) and could not have blemish on him to be acceptable to God. Christ is always described as our sin sacrifice and never as our substitute (Hebrews 10:9-10).

B. Galatians 3:10-13

  1. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),” (Gal 3:10-13).
  2. Consider the words of J. Gresham Machen from his notes on Galatians: “Here we come to the very heart of Paul’s teaching. The curse which Christ bore upon the cross was not a curse that wrongly rested upon Him; it was not a curse pronounced upon Him by some wicked human law. No, it was the curse of God’s law; it was a curse therefore, –we tremble as we say it, but the Scripture compels us to say it—it was a curse which rightly rested upon Him. But if that be so, there can be no doubt but that the substitutionary atonement is taught in Scripture. The only way in which a curse could rightly rest upon a sinless One is that he was the substitute, in bearing the curse, for those upon whom it did rightly rest. That is the heart of Paul’s teaching and the heart of the whole Bible.”
  3. Is substitution taught in Galatians 3? The curse that all mankind bears is the curse of the law. The Old Testament offered no method of true forgiveness, for “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4). Perfect lawkeeping was the demand of the law. Anyone who violated the law became cursed and all people violated the law of God. Therefore, all people bear the curse of the law. Now, carefully read the text. Does Paul say that Christ became a curse in our place? Does the scripture teach that Christ bore our curse? No, it does not.
  4. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” How did Christ become a curse for us? The passage does not say by bearing our curse, but that Christ became a curse by being hung on a tree. If we are to say there was a curse placed upon Jesus, we must at least recognize that the curse is not the same curse placed upon all humanity. Our curse was the curse of the law for its violation. If Jesus had a curse, it was not the curse of the law, but the curse of dying on a tree.
  5. But I would like to argue that the text does not say that God cursed Jesus. The “curse” Jesus bore relates to the command given in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” This is capital punishment for capital crimes. If a man did something deserving of death, he was to be put to death and he was to be hung on a tree for all to see that he is a violator of God’s law. A.T. Robertson notes an important point: ” Quotation from Deut. 21:23 with the omission of hupo theou (by God), since Christ was not cursed by God.” Paul explicitly does not quote the whole sentence of being cursed by God, because Jesus was not cursed by God.
  6. Did Jesus commit sin deserving of death? Absolutely not. Jesus was not a sinner and did not violate any of God’s laws. Jesus’ death removed the power and authority of the law, thereby removing the curse upon us (Colossians 2:13-14; Ephesians 2:14-16; Hebrews 10:1-10; 8:6-7). In what way did Jesus become a curse for us, according to the text? He became a curse in the fact that he was killed like heinous criminal. Jesus was not cursed by God, but viewed by the people as cursed.
  7. Consider the words of Albert Barnes from his book The Atonement: “But what is its meaning as applied to the Redeemer in the passage now before us? (a.) It cannot mean that he was made a curse in the sense that his work and character were displeasing to God; for, as we have seen, just the contrary doctrine is everywhere taught in the New Testament. (b.) It cannot mean that he was the object of the Divine displeasure, and was therefore abandoned by him to deserved destruction. (c.) It cannot be employed as denoting that he was in any sense ill deserving or blameworthy; for this is equally contrary to the teachings of the Bible. (d.) It cannot mean that he was guilty in the usual and proper meaning of the word, and that therefore he was punished; for this would not be true. (e.) It cannot mean that he bore the literal penalty of the law; for, as we have seen, there are parts of that penalty—remorse of conscience, and eternity of suffering—which he did not, and could not, bear. (f.) It cannot mean that he was sinful, or a sinner, in any sense; for this is equally contrary to all the teachings of the Bible in regard to his character. (g.) There is but one other conceivable meaning that can be attached to the passage, and that is that, though innocent, he was treated in his death AS IF he had been guilty; that is, he was put to death AS IF he had personally deserved it. That this is the meaning is implied in the explanation which the apostle himself gives of his own language: –‘being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.’ He was suspended on a cross, as if he had been a malefactor. He was numbered with malefactors; he was crucified between them; he was given up by God and man to death as if he had himself been such a malefactor.” The Jews considered Jesus guilty, charged him of blasphemy and was therefore worthy of death (Matthew 27:39-43). Jesus did not become a curse in our place. Rather, in the process of becoming our sacrifice for sins which removed our curse, the people perceived Jesus to be cursed by God.

C. 1 Peter 2:24

  1. If Jesus did not literally have the sins of the world placed upon him, then what did Peter mean in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed“? I think we must first notice what the text does actually say. Notice that it says he “bore our sins in his body,” not on his body. So what did the body of Christ do? What does it mean when Peter say Jesus bore our sins?
  2. The word “bore” in the Greek is the word anaphero, which means “to carry up, take up, offer up.” The irony in the words of the commentators can be clearly seen in Warren Wiersbe’s The Bible Exposition Commentary: “He died as the sinner’s Substitute…. He died as a Saviour, a sinless Substitute. The word translated ‘bare’ means ‘to carry as a sacrifice.'” I find it humorous that Wiersbe admits the meaning of the word “bore” yet insists this passage teaches substitution.
  3. We can see the meaning of this word throughout the scriptures. Hebrews 7:27 says, “who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up (anaphero) sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up (anaphero) Himself .” James 2:21 similarly, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up (anaphero) Isaac his son on the altar?” 1 Peter 2:5 says, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up (anaphero) spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ .”
  4. Understanding the word “bore” makes the words of Peter rather simple. This passage does not say that Jesus “carried” our sins “on” His body nor that our sins were “placed” upon Him. The body of Jesus was offered up on an altar as a sacrifice, an offering to God, for sins. Thus, the NLT translates 1 Peter 2:24, “ He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds!

II. Old Testament Passages

A. Isaiah 53

  1. Chapter 53 is often used to prove the theory of substitution. So let us spend a little time looking at what Isaiah says in his prophecy. Verse 3 tells us that “He was despised and forsaken by men” not by God.
  2. Verse 4 says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.” Many translations say “he bore our infirmities.” We must understand the word “bore” means “to take up; to carry; to take away; to remove” which is why the NIV translates, “Surely he took up our infirmities….” Matthew quotes this part of Isaiah’s prophecy in Matthew 8:16-17 and declares Jesus fulfilled it while he was on the earth, healing people of demon possession. Jesus has taken away our sorrows and griefs. “Ye we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” Again, the text does not say that God afflicted Jesus, but that we considered Jesus afflicted by God. This goes to prove our understanding of Galatians 3. Jesus was not cursed by God, but the people considered Jesus cursed of God.
  3. Verse 6 is an important verse that we must deal with properly: “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” What does it mean that the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all? The word for “laid on” is the Hebrew word paga, which means according to Strong’s, “ come (betwixt), cause to entreat, fall (upon), make intercession, intercessor, entreat, lay, light (upon), meet (together), pray, reach, run .” In the same context, the word used by translators is “intercession.” Verse 12 says, “…and made intercession (paga) for the transgressors. ” Similarly, Isaiah 59:16, Jeremiah 7:16, and 15:11 has (paga) translated as “intercession.” The Septuagint, the translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, uses the Greek word paredoken from paradidomi , meaning “to deliver up or intercede.” This base of this Greek word is found twice in the New Testament. Romans 8:32 says, “He did not even spare His own Son, but offered (paradidomi) Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything?” Similarly, Ephesians 5:2 says, “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave (paradidomi) Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” We are now able to see that there is nothing in these words implying substitution. Rather, Isaiah 53:6 is simply saying the Lord delivered or offered up Jesus for the iniquity of us all. Jesus sacrifice was to make intercession for our iniquities.
  4. Verse 8 does not require a substitutionary view either. “For the transgressions of my people He was stricken” simply tells us that it was because of our sins that Jesus was needed as a sacrifice for sins.
  5. Verse 10 is useful because Isaiah says exactly what we have been arguing in these lessons. “When you make his life an offering for sin…” states the very point we are making concerning Jesus’ death. The death was not a substitution but a sin sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus was well-pleasing to God, offered on our behalf to open the way of God’s mercy for us. This is exactly what Paul said concerning Jesus in Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”
  6. Verse 11 says “For He shall bear their iniquities.” Hopefully we now understand what it means for Jesus to bear our iniquities, as we noted previously in 1 Peter 2:24. The Hebrew word for “bear” is sabal which means according to Strong’s “to carry (literally or figuratively).” Thus, the HCSB rightly translates, “and He will carry their iniquities.” This is the same word used back in verse 4 of Isaiah that Jesus “carried (sabal) our sorrows. ” The Hebrew word sabal is translated in the Septuagint with the word anaphero, which we noticed already means “to carry up, to carry away, to offer up.”
  7. Finally, verse 12 concludes “And he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” The Hebrew word for “bore” is nasa which means “to lift, to carry, to take.” Similarly, the Hebrew word nasa is also translated by the Septuagint with the word anaphero. Again, the meaning is that Jesus took away our sins and offered up our sins as a sacrifice to the Lord.

B. A substitute for Isaac

  1. What about all of the Old Testament analogies we frequently use to show substitution? Let us take a moment to consider a few of them. The offering of the ram instead of Isaac is a case of substitution. In fact, the Bible clearly states the ram as such: “ So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. ” Is it not interesting that the Bible has no problem declaring the ram a substitute for Isaac, but never declares Jesus to be a substitute for us?
  2. Unfortunately, we are frequently told the Abraham represents God, Isaac represents us, and the ram represents Christ. Therefore, Christ became our substitute. However the Bible does not make this analogy. But Hebrews 11:17-19 depicts Abraham as God and Isaac as Christ. Isaac figuratively rose from the dead and returns to Abraham. In the same way, Christ rose from the dead and return to the Father. If anything, the offering of Isaac shows that no one would be there to stop the hand of God from slaying his own Son like Abraham was stopped by an angel from slaying his son. God would offer his son for the sins of the people. Maybe the reason there was a ram caught in the thicket and not a lamb was to prevent us from making a false analogy.
  3. Further, Isaac was scheduled to die on the altar. God had decreed that Abraham slay his only son. The ram became a substitute for Isaac. But we were not scheduled to die on the cross. If we had, we may be able to say that Jesus stepped in and took our place, dying instead of us. But we have seen this is not true. The Bible never declares that Jesus took our place nor that we were to die on the cross.

C. The scapegoat

  1. The scapegoat was set into the wilderness after the sacrifice of atonement had been made for sins. The scapegoat symbolized to the people that their sins were being taken away from them through the activities on the day of atonement. Jesus is seen in the sacrifice of atonement and not solely in the scapegoat. In fact, the scriptures never liken Jesus to scapegoat. Jesus is likened to the sacrifice.
  2. Further, the sins were not literally transferred on to the scapegoat. We know that the blood of bulls and goats did not take away sins (Hebrews 10:1-4). The sins remained with the people. The scapegoat simply symbolized God overlooking these transgression until the true sacrifice of Jesus could come. In the same way, Jesus did not literally carry our sins on him, as we have argued throughout the last lesson and this lesson. Rather, Jesus sacrifice, resurrection, and ascension shows that our sins have been taken away from us.

D. Laying on of hands

  1. It is often asserted that by laying on of hands, the sins of the one making the offering were literally taken away from the worshipper and placed on the animal. But, again, we know that sins were not taken away under the old covenant (Hebrews 10:1-4).
  2. Barton W. Stone explains this point well: “The law of the sin-offering was, that the offender should lay his hands on the victim’s head. If this signified the confession and imputation of sin, I ask, did every woman after child-birth, who brought her sin-offering, and according to the law laid her hands on the victim’s head—did she by this act confess her sin, because she had brought forth a child into the world? No: for in having children in lawful wedlock, she obeyed the institution of heaven. Did the woman who brought her sin-offering for katemena, and laid her hands on the victim’s head—did she by this act confess that she had sinned in this? Did the leper, the man with a running issue, by laying their hands on the heads of their sin-offerings, confess that they had sinned in these things? I cannot think so.” “But it may be said that the victim was accepted for the offerer, or in his room and stead. I answer: The victim was accepted or favorably received at the hand of the offerer, if it was of that description which the law required, and offered in a right manner. Leviticus 22:23 “A bullock or lamb which hath any thing superfluous, or lacking in its part, thou mayest offer for a free-will offering; but for a vow it shall not be accepted.” Leviticus 22:20,25; Phil. 4:18 …Should any still insist that accepted for you means in your stead, and therefore the victim was a substitute; I answer: that a sheaf of wheat is said to be accepted for you. Leviticus 22:11, “And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, and it shall be accepted of him.” Surely the sheaf was not a substitute, nor was sin imputed to it, and it accepted in the stead of the offerer!”
  3. To say that substitution was taking place with the animal and offerer proves too much. Substitution clearly did not take place between a sheaf of wheat and the offerer. Nor can we assume that laying on of hands transferred sins since there are many other instances where the laying on of hands took place, but had nothing to do with sins whatsoever.

E. The firstborn of Egypt

  1. It is also suggested that the blood of the lamb in the Passover which was placed on the door was a substitute for the firstborn of Israel. But how was this an act performed in the place of the firstborn of Israel? This lamb was no substitute for the sins of the Israelite firstborn, no penalty for sin was placed on the lamb that was slain, and the lamb did not take the place of anyone.
  2. But if it were so, then it proves too much because all the firstborn animals were also delivered in the Passover (Exodus 11:7). Whatever the purpose was for placing the blood on the doorway for the Israelites, it included shielding their animals as well. Was the blood of the Passover lamb a “substitute” sacrifice for the “sins” of animals as well? Substitution is no more involved in the Passover than in the instance of the bronze serpent years later. The blood on the doorway was simply for identification and thus protection from the wrath of the Lord, not some form of substitution.


I hope this helps us see what the Bible does say about what Jesus did for us. I hope we can see that Jesus was a sacrifice for our sins. The Bible never says Jesus was our substitute. What addition does substitution bring? Why is the theory of substitution needed? We have Jesus dying for our sins, removing them from us, presenting us justified. I submit that substitution is only necessary because if proves Calvinism, else it could be discarded. In our next lesson we will look at how we are to explain what Jesus did do with the words of redemption and ransom.

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