(continuing the series on the Cross by guest blogger Mick Taylor)
For many of us, teaching on penal substitution was imbibed almost with our mother’s milk, for others it was on hearing this message for the first time that we turned to Christ. It is as uncontroversial as bread and butter, its part of our regular staple diet. So it is disturbing when we hear that some have come to the opinion that it not just unnecessary and unbiblical but positively harmful, even poisonous. Others, while not so extreme in their comments, question whether penal substitution is an adequate or helpful way of understanding what Christ did for us on the cross.
The Bible doesn’t read like a systematic theology. You can’t look in the index and then turn to one chapter and find a complete description and definition of a particular doctrine. So it is with penal substitution. The ingredients for this doctrine are found throughout scripture.
In the Old Testament the Passover (Exodus 12) and the ritual of the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) are key elements. The Passover was where faithful Israelites were saved from death through the death of a lamb. It pointed to the ultimate Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) On the Day of Atonement the two goats are clearly substitutes. The death penalty that sinful people deserved was taken by them. It is, however, Isaiah 53 that states most powerfully and with crystal clarity that Christ took our punishment.
…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)