. The Real Christ...
We have seen that the animal sacrifices were not completely representative of sinful men. Jesus was representative of us, being in all points "made like his brethren" (Heb. 2:17). "He suffered death ... for everyone " (Heb. 2:9 NIV). When we commit a sin - e.g. we are angry - God can forgive us if we are "in Christ" (Eph. 4:32). This is because God can compare us with Christ, a man like us who was tempted to sin - e.g. to be angry - but who overcame every temptation. Therefore God can forgive us our sin - of anger - on account of our being in Christ, covered by his righteousness. Christ being our representative is therefore the means by which God can show us His grace, whilst upholding His own righteous principles.
If Jesus was God rather than being solely of human nature, he could not have been our representative. This is another example of where one wrong idea leads to another. Because of this, theologians have developed many complex ways of explaining Christ's death. The popular view of apostate Christendom is that man's sins placed him in a debt to God which of himself he could not pay. Christ then cleared the debt of each believer by his blood, shed on the cross. Many a Gospel Hall preacher has expressed it like this: "It was as if we were all lined up against a wall, about to be shot by the devil. Jesus then rushed in; the devil shot him instead of us, so we are now free."
These elaborate theories are without any firm Biblical support. There is the obvious contradiction that if Christ died instead of us, then we should not die. As we still have human nature, we must still die; salvation from sin and death will finally be revealed at the judgment (when we are granted immortality). We did not receive this at the time Christ died. Christ's death destroyed the devil (Heb. 2:14) rather than the devil destroying him.
The Bible teaches that salvation is possible through Christ's death AND resurrection, not just by his death. Christ "died for us" once. The theory of substitution would mean that he had to die for each of us personally. The English preoposition “for” (as in “Christ died for us”) has a much wider range of meaning than the Greek word which it translates. If Christ had died instead of us, the Greek word anti would have been used. But never is this word used in any Bible passage which says that Jesus died for us.
If Christ paid off a debt with his blood, our salvation becomes something which we can expect as a right. The fact that salvation is a gift, brought about by God's mercy and forgiveness, is lost sight of if we understand Christ's sacrifice as being a debt payment. It also makes out that an angry God was appeased once He saw the physical blood of Jesus. Yet what God sees when we repent is His Son as our representative, whom we are striving to copy, rather than we connecting ourselves with Christ's blood as a talisman. Many hymns and songs contain an incredible amount of false doctrine in this area. Most false doctrine is drummed into people's minds by music, rather than rational, Biblical instruction. We must ever be on the watch for this kind of brain-washing.
Tragically, the simple words "Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8) have been grossly misunderstood as meaning that Christ died instead of us. There are a number of connections between Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15 (e.g. v. 12 = 1 Cor. 15:21; v. 17 = 1 Cor. 15:22). "Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8) is matched by "Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). His death was in order to make a way whereby we can gain forgiveness of our sins; it was in this sense that "Christ died for us". The word "for" does not necessarily mean 'instead of'; Christ died "for (because of) our sins", not 'instead of' them. Because of this, Christ can "make intercession" for us (Heb. 7:25) - not 'instead of' us. Neither does "for" mean 'instead of' in Heb. 10:12 and Gal. 1:4. If Christ died ‘instead of us’ there would be no need to carry His cross, as He bids us. And there would be no sense in being baptized into His death and resurrection, willingly identifying ourselves with Him as our victorious representative. The idea of substitution implies a short cut to glorification with Him which simply isn’t valid. Understanding Him as our representative commits us to baptism into His death and resurrection, the life of cross-carrying along with Him, and realistically sharing in His resurrection. His resurrection is ours; we were given the hope of resurrection because we are in Christ, who was raised (1 Pet. 1:3). The Lord Jesus lived and died with our nature, in all its waywardness, in order to be able to come close to us and to enable us to identify ourselves with Him. By appreciating this doctrinally, we enable Him to see the result of the suffering of His soul and be satisfied. There is a nice little cameo of this when the Lord dealt with the man whose tongue wasn’t functioning properly. Because the tongue controls swallowing, surely the man was frothing in his own spittle. And yet the Lord spits and puts His spittle on that of the man, to show His complete ability to identify with the human condition.
To put it mildly, the 'substitution' idea reflects careless thought and a wrong use of language. The sacrifice of Jesus was made by God, and not to Him, let alone to appease Him. In the death of Jesus, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself" (2 Cor. 5:19)- not paying blood to Himself nor to Satan.
It’s interesting to note that there are others who’ve seen through the ‘substitution’ theory. John A.T. Robinson, one-time Bishop of Woolwich, wrote: “The New Testament writers never say that God punishes Christ. Christ stands as our representative, not as our replacement; his work is always on behalf of us (hyper) not instead of us (anti); he died to sin, not so that we shall not have to (as our substitute), but precisely so that we can (as our representative)” (Wrestling With Romans (London: SCM, 1979), p. 48). See too Dorothee Soelle, Christ The Representative (London: SCM, 1967).
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...