The Atonement: Penal-Substitutionary Atonement.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)

Before we go any further in our study of the atonement of and by Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners, we must articulate and define what type of atonement the Bible teaches. There are many different views as to what Jesus accomplished on the cross, but only one is the biblical view. That biblical is often referred to as the penal-substitutionary atonement.

The meaning of penal-substitutionary atonement is found by taking each word separately. We have already defined the word atonement. What do penal and substitutionary mean?

Penal is shortened form for penalty. It means punitive, punishing, disciplinary and correction. Penal is often used in reference to a penal colony. A penal colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general population by placing them in a remote location, often an island or a distant colonial territory. The reason for this is to punish prisoners for breaking the law. They receive a severe punishment for having done so.

Substitutionary is from the root word substitute. It means to take the place of someone or something. We all experienced in school what was known as a “substitute teacher.” They took our permanent teacher’s place, usually for just a day.

When applied to the atonement of Jesus Christ the phrase “penal-substitutionary atonement refers to Jesus taking the sinner’s place by becoming a substitute and receiving the rightful punishment from God for the sinner’s sin and disobedience. This is what the Prophet Isaiah meant in Isaiah 53:4-6. The Servant of the LORD, Jesus Christ, would bear the sinner’s griefs and carry their sorrows. God the Father would strike, smite, and afflict Him. He would be pierced because of the sinner’s transgressions. He would be crushed for the sinner’s iniquities. He would be chastised and wounded on the sinner’s behalf. The LORD laid upon Him the iniquity of sinners.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “When we look at the biblical depiction of sin as a crime, we see that Jesus acts as the Substitute, taking our place at the bar of God’s justice. For this reason, we sometimes speak of Jesus’ work on the cross as the substitutionary atonement of Christ, which means that when He offered an atonement, it was not to satisfy God’s justice for His own sins, but for the sins of others. He stepped into the role of the Substitute, representing His people. He didn’t lay down His life for Himself; He laid it down for His sheep. He is our ultimate Substitute. Jesus’ mission was to be the Substitute, the vicarious sacrifice offered to God. Jesus understood this and embraced it. From the start of His ministry, He knew He had come to act as a Substitute on behalf of His sheep. At the center of His teaching was the assertion that He was doing this not for Himself but for us—to redeem us, to ransom us, to save us.”

Penal-substitutionary atonement is a magnificent, biblical truth.  The hymn writer Phillip Bliss expressed its truth as follows.

“Man of Sorrows!” what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

May God’s truth and grace reside here.

Soli deo Gloria!


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