The theology involved in thinking about the Lamb of God is called “Penal Substitutionary Atonement,” and is probably the most well-known, today, of the salvation themes found in the Bible.
- “Penal” means “punishment,” and refers to the punishment of death.
- “Substitutionary” I will get to in a minute, and means what it sounds like.
- “Atonement” has to do with reparation, payment for a crime.
PSA is an old, old theology, going back far deeper and far earlier than even the two millennia between you, me, and the cross.
As it was instituted in the wilderness, according to the book of Exodus, a person would bring a yearling lamb (or a yearling kid) to the altar and lay their hands on the yearling’s head, symbolically transferring their violation of the covenant and their offence towards God to the yearling, before it was sacrificed. Its death represented the person’s own death, the just penalty for their trespass against God’s Law, and therefore God.
There was nothing particularly sacred in the animal, apart from its being physically perfect, without any blemish, flaw, or mark of any kind.
The effectiveness of these sacrifices was based entirely on what Messiah would one day do.
There is an exhaustive list of transgressions in the book of Leviticus, as well as circumstances for which sacrifices would be appropriate—including making sacrifice for offenses committed in ignorance.
These sacrifices were based, essentially, on substitution. In Greek this concept of substitution is found in the word huper, which means “on behalf of,” or “in another’s place.” Huper is the chief Greek term for expressing this principle of substitution, and many would claim substitution is the chief salvation concept found in the whole of the Bible.
Now, all of this was at the individual’s level. One lamb would be required to make substitution for one person’s trespass.
God also provided for those gathered in one household through the Passover lamb. The Passover lamb died in the place of every first-born Hebrew the night God judged all Egypt, during the tenth plague. Every household which had literally painted the lamb’s blood on their door posts was spared that fateful night.
Passover continues to be an important festival on the Jewish calendar, commemorating the great salvation and redemption God wrought for them.
On this one, sacred day a perfect lamb was chosen for slaughter, and a perfect goat—a scapegoat—was chosen to take on all the sins of the nation and be driven into the desert, taking Israel’s unrighteousness with it, forever removed from the people.
Only the high priest could enter the most holy place, the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and never without the shedding of blood. The slain lamb’s blood would be sprinkled upon the mercy seat, the footstool of God’s throne in heaven, showing atonement for having broken the covenant contained within the Ark of the Covenant. And God would accept the substituted lamb’s life as payment for Israel’s sins.
Even to this day, Yom Kippur is considered one of the holiest of Jewish holidays, traditionally observed with a 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer.
Before sunset, on the eve of Yom Kippur the congregation gathers in the synagogue. The Ark is opened, and two people take from it two Torah scrolls, and the congregation begins a service held only once each year, a time of cleansing and forgiveness.
As the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus had to be without any flaw—inwardly and outwardly completely without any of the defects, transgressions, imperfections, violations, or corruption of any kind.
Jesus had to be without sin.
But Jesus also had to be completely righteous.
And he was. Jesus was so attuned to the Father, they were of one mind. Jesus spoke only what the Father gave him to say, perhaps in the way you and I speak only what comes up from within our own inner beings to say.
Jesus was said to have been perfectly obedient to the Father, perhaps in the way you and I are “perfectly obedient” to our own wills. And the kicker is, Jesus even submitted, completely perfectly, to the whole of the Mosaic law, though he himself is God.
According to the theology of Penal Substitutionary Atonement, you and I must figuratively place our hands onto Jesus as we confess our sins, and envision our sin transferring to him, believing that his death is in place of the death that your trespass and mine brings us.
By his sinlessness Jesus was qualified to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, the perfect substitute to absorb all the punishment and wrath for sin. Because he is God, infinite and eternal, Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient once and for all, enough for all sin past, present, and future.
And there’s more.
Substitution also works the other way, too. We, in effect, trade Jesus’ righteousness for our sins.
However, to say Jesus died for our sins, or that sinners are saved by grace, is to explore only one aspect of a much more massive revelation of God.
Salvation, in the Bible, means:
Adoption—Jesus becomes our brother as we are made God’s heirs, beloved sons and daughters.
Atonement—Jesus’ blood makes reparation for our sin.
Cleansing—Jesus washes our sin away, making us fresh, clean, and pure.
Forgiveness—Jesus forgives us for all our wrongs.
Justification—Jesus’ death is counted as our death, “Just as if I had not sinned,” so we can be declared innocent. It is a clearing of accounts.
Propitiation—Jesus’ death satisfies God’s wrath and the need for justice.
Reconciliation—Jesus restores us to right relationship with God, with each other, and with all creation.
Redemption—Jesus pays for us to be set free from enslavement to the law, sin, and death.
Regeneration—Jesus makes us become a new person by his Spirit, called a new birth, or new life.
Salvation—Jesus saves us from certain death and saves us to eternal life with God.
Substitution—Jesus substitutes Himself for us, He takes our penalty, and gives us his righteousness.
Victory—Jesus conquers sin and death and makes us the victors with him. He aslo shares with us the spoils of victory: spiritual gifts.
And even this is probably not the whole list of salvation themes.
The point is, even though Penal Substitutionary Atonement is an important concept, maybe even a foundational one, it is not the only important word on salvation, certainly not the last word, for the gospel is so, so much more.
[Shofar and Scriptures | Provenance Unknown]