In last Thursday’s post we discussed the meaning of atonement and looked at two proposed theories. As Easter quickly approaches, we will continue with the same theme this week.
First we will look at another popular theory that, while not completely incorrect, does not do the atonement complete justice. Then, we will survey the theory of penal substitution, a theory that has great biblical merit.
The Ransom Theory
The ransom theory of the atonement is very popular among Christians and has been labeled the “classic” or the “standard” view of the atonement going back to the time of the early church. Origen, who lived in the second and third centuries AD was a leading proponent of the view, which suggests that “The death of Christ was a ransom paid to Satan to satisfy any claims Satan had against man.”
In his commentary on Romans, Origen writes,
Now it was the devil who held us, to whose side we had been drawn away by our sins. He asked, therefore, as our price the blood of Christ.
For Origen and others, this idea was based on Jesus’s words in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.” Erickson summarizes Origen’s thought process by asking, “To whom was this ransom paid? Certainly not to God. He would not pay a ransom to himself. Rather, it must have been paid to the evil one, for it was he who held us captive until the ransom, namely, the soul of Jesus, was paid.”
The problem with this theory is that the Bible never explicitly states to whom the ransom was paid. Should we view the death of Jesus as a ransom? He did, so yes, we should too. But should we view it as a ransom paid to Satan? Not necessarily…
In his commentary on Mark 10:45, Brooks states, “The word translated ‘ransom’ was often used in secular Greek to refer to purchasing the freedom of a slave or a prisoner of war. The emphasis was on the price that was paid.” Jesus paid the ultimate price—He gave His very life on the cross. But we go astray when we claim that price was paid to Satan. More important than who the ransom was paid to is who the ransom was paid for. Jesus gave His life as a ransom “for many.” Jesus died for you and for me. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
The importance of the doctrine of the atonement cannot be understated. Because of its shear magnitude, it is difficult to explain with just a single theory. Erickson explains how the entire Bible is needed to build a complete theory of the atonement. “The doctrine of the atonement relies heavily upon the perspective of several background doctrines. The doctrines of the nature of God, the status of the law, the human condition, Christ, and the Old Testament sacrificial system have great influence on a view of the atonement…Therefore, we may understand the atonement to involve sacrifice, propitiation, substitution, and reconciliation in the relationship of God to humanity. It is the penal substitution theory that best describes this relationship for the atonement” (italics added).
God is loving, merciful, gracious, and forgiving. At the same time, He is also holy, perfect, and just. In His justice, God cannot let sin go unpunished. This is where the metaphor of a law court comes into play. God is a just judge, and all mankind must plead guilty before Him. Romans 3:23 makes it clear that we have all sinned. Romans 6:23 also tells us that the penalty for our sin is death. But there is more to that verse. It goes on to say that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus.
Jesus took the sins of the world on His shoulders and carried them to the cross, where He died. And He did not die because He deserved it, He died for you and for me, to satisfy the wrath of God towards our sin. Jesus, the innocent lamb without stain or blemish, died for us—guilty humans deserving of that death. He was and is our substitute.
Ryrie puts it this way: “Christ the sinless One took on Himself the penalty that should have been borne by man and others.” He died in our place. Because of Him, we can be declared righteous, we can be seen as holy in the eyes of our Maker. But this justification is not automatic. It comes only by a confession of faith. Romans 10:9-10 tells us, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.”
Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, but the powerful and life-giving effect of His death will only be applied to those who have faith. The extent is universal, but the salvific effect is only for those who believe in Him.
Do you believe?
 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 810.
 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1999), 355.
 Origen, Commentary on Romans 2:13.
 Erickson, Christian Theology, 811.
 Ryrie, Basic Theology, 355.
 James A. Brooks, Mark, New American Commentary vol. 23, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1991), 171.
 Erickson, Christian Theology, 818.
 Ryrie, Basic Theology, 356.
16 thoughts on “Did Christ Die in My Place?”
I am so glad He died for me. He paid the price for my sin. He became my substitute. He did not have to do it. He wanted to give His life because He loved me. He loves all of us. What a merciful God we serve
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Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives. And from our vantage point, it always gives to the wrong person. We see this over and over again in the Gospels: Jesus is always giving to the wrong people—prostitutes, tax collectors, half-breeds. The most extravagant sinners of Jesus’s day receive His most compassionate welcome. Grace is a divine vulgarity that stands caution on its head. It refuses to play it safe and lay it up. Grace is recklessly generous, uncomfortably promiscuous. It doesn’t use sticks, carrots, or time cards. It doesn’t keep score. Grace works without requiring anything on our part. It’s not expensive. It’s not even cheap. It’s free. It refuses to be controlled by our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and evenhandedness. It defies logic. It has nothing to do with earning, merit, or deservedness. It is opposed to what is owed. It doesn’t expect a return on investments. It is a liberating contradiction between what we deserve and what we get. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. It is one-way love.
The God of the universe cannot possibly be contained and detained within the Bible. The last sentence in the book of John says: “There are many more things that Jesus did. If all of them were written down, I suppose not even the world itself would have space for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Christ also told His disciples and friends, “I have many more things to say to you but you cannot bear them Now.” Knowing that we don’t know or don’t need to know is either a relief for some or else an assault on some’s ego that demands to have an answer for every conceivable question. If so, they fear and doubt and then in self-interested anger, go about dividing and conquering the arminians, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, Libertarians, Franciscans, Jesuits, Baptists, Pentecostals, Wesleyans, Episcopalians, Universalists, Unitarians, Catholic Charismatic Renewal, Blue Army of Our Lady of Fátima, Legion of Mary, International Catholic Conference of Scouting
Worldwide Marriage Encounter, Marian Movement of Priests, Militia Immaculatae,
International Alliance of Catholic Knights Knights of Columbus, Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement, Neocatechumenal Way, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Secular Franciscan Order, Focolare Movement, Opus Dei, Community of Sant’Egidio, Regnum Christi, Our Lady’s Rosary Makers, Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans,
Eastern Catholic Churches, Alexandrian Rite, Ethiopian Catholic Church, Coptic Catholic Church, Eritrean Catholic Church, Antiochene Rite, Maronite Catholic Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, Syriac Catholic Church, Armenian Rite,
Armenian Catholic Church, Chaldean Rite, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Chaldean Catholic Church, Byzantine Rite, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Romanian Greek Catholic Church, Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church, Hungarian Greek Catholic Church, Slovak Greek Catholic Church, Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, Belarusian Greek Catholic Church, Byzantine Catholic Church of Croatia and Serbia, Georgian Byzantine Catholic Church, Albanian Greek Catholic Church, Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church, Greek Byzantine Catholic Church,
Macedonian Greek Catholic Church, Russian Greek Catholic Church and we haven’t even gotten into Calvinist’s cells and Southern Baptists… Oh my! When ‘Christians’ get fearful, we divide baby! “Thou Shalt Be Right!” Hmmm.
Then God said, “Let US (plural) make mankind in our image, in our (OUR) likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” -Genesis 1:26
“In the beginning the Word (Christ) already existed. The Word (Christ) was with God, and the Word was God. He (Christ) existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him (Christ) and nothing was created except through him (Christ). The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” -John’s prologue 1:1-4
“HE (CHRIST) IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, the (FIRSTBORN over all creation). For by Him (Christ) all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. ALL THINGS WERE CREATED THROUGH HIM (CHRIST) AND FOR HIM (CHRIST). And He (Christ) is BEFORE all things, and in Him (Christ) all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who IS the beginning, the (FIRSTBORN from the dead), that in all things He may have the preeminence.” -Colossians 1:14–18
Two is company, three is a crowd. Really?
Christ asserts otherwise. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” -Christ
No matter how hard we try, a pattern of THREE is unavoidable. In fact, the number two (2) is by its very nature, oppositional. “I’m right, you’re wrong.” ALL or NOTHING.
I hook with you and who else is in our midst? Christ. The Holy Spirit. The spirit of truth. The Comforter, Helper, Defence Attorney and just maybe the Ultimate Participator. You know, the Alpha and Omega.
Who would you be highly disappointed if not downright angry to see upon entrance into heaven? Jesus did not come to found a separate or new religion as much as he came to present a universal message of vulnerability and unity that is necessary for all religions, the human soul, and the earth’s survival. By very definition, vulnerability and unity do not compete or dominate. The Cosmic (John 1:1) Christ is no threat to anything but separateness, illusion, and the imperial ego. In that sense, Jesus, the Christ, is the ultimate threat, but first of all to Christians themselves.
Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises. The GOSPEL ITSELF IS NEITHER LIBERAL NOR CONSERVATIVE BUT SEVERELY CRITIQUES BOTH SIDES OF THIS FALSE CHOICE. The true good news of Christ will never fill stadiums, because dualistic masses can never collectively embrace an enlightened “Third Way,” which, contemplatively speaking, always feels a bit like nothing, because in this position you are indeed like Christ—you have “no place to lay your head.” Just like the mystery of the Father. Just like the crucifixion of the Son. Just like the anonymity of the Spirit. There are commonly two kinds of human beings: there are people who want certitude and there are people who want understanding; and these two cannot understand one another. Really. Those who demand certitude out of life will insist on it even if it doesn’t fit the facts. Logic has nothing to do with it. Truth has nothing to do with it. “Don’t bother me with the truth—I’ve already come to my conclusion!” If you need certitude, you will come to your conclusion. You will surround yourself with your conclusion. If here, the casket closes, the heart hardens, and wonderment ceases. It is heaven all the way to heaven, and it is hell all the way to hell. They aren’t geographical places, but rather states of consciousness. Christ once said to His disciples: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them NOW.”
Wow that’s probably the lengthiest comment I’ve ever gotten. We need to rely on Grace and embrace the truth. Both are necessary for our salvation. Grace brings it in Truth keeps us there. If we neglect either one we are in danger.
OH Mercy is GOOD. That’s GOOD news and oddly enough, it is NEW news. Thanks for your post. So good to see an upbeat follower. Thanks Pete!
My pleasure. I’m glad you found it to be a blessing. Have a great day
And not only your place, but for the whole world. Who would you be highly disappointed if not downright angry to see upon entrance into heaven? Grace isn’t a license to sin. None has ever needed a license to sin.
No one… ever!
The more seemingly impossible someone’s salvation is, the more it would be an endless delight to see saved and to sing with before the throne of God! With Him nothing is impossible. I’m thrilled to see what He will do.
His love changed my heart! He is mighty to save. Oh, for the glory of the Lord!
The most powerful argument against the Ransom Theory is the fact that Jesus’ blood was presented on the Mercy Seat, not at the feet of Satan!
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Never thought of that…thanks Randy!
Well presented. Thank you!
Thanks for taking the time to read!
I don’t think so.
But that’s just my view.
Very well said!
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Great post! Loved the meat of this and happy to not be getting spiritual milk instead.
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I have most of your sources on my shelf!
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“…He died for you and for me, to satisfy the wrath of God towards our sin..”
I find it so hard so very hard to accept this ! I think we are misstating it to think He died to satisfy the wrath of God. Rather .. I think he died as an outcome of love .. Man had been cast away from Paradise due to sin …. and Jesus came amongst us to reopen the gates of heaven to us. He offered himself as the sacrificial lamb of the New Covenant and showed us how to live in God-consciousness under this covenant – the Kingdom of God which He said is already amongst us and is also ‘not yet’.
Having said which … I guess words can never fully explain mysteries of our faith, and I can only pray for understanding so I won’t be convicted by “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 1 Cor 1.19
May we all remain in His Word. Blessed Easter to all