We continue our Lenten series on Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (2015).
In this post we finish chapter (11) on The Substitution.
For Rutledge, the theme of substitution is an “underlying motif” which supports other themes.
It is best understood, not as a rationalistic scheme (like Hodge’s we discussed earlier), but within the overall biblical narrative.
[My Comments] This very much ties in with issues discussed much on this blog over the years – the scope of the gospel (euangelion) as the great good news about God’s fulfilled promise in Jesus the Messiah and King of Israel, come to bring liberation, forgiveness of sin, the kingdom of God and the gift of the Spirit.
This Jesus-centric gospel narrative is not to be equated with a formula of atonement-for-sin like Hodge’s. It abstracts substitution into something close to a transactional formula that is all too easily detached from the biblical narrative.
It also risks making substitution narrowly individualistic. While atonement for sin through Jesus paying the price and taking our place IS profoundly personal for every believer, penal substitution happens within the wider story of God’s victory over Sin, Death and the Powers (Christus Victor).
But, having said this, penal substitution is a vital aspect of the atonement. Rutledge argues that it
is more closely linked with the virtually ubiquitous biblical teaching about God’s judgement upon Sin than any other motif, however much our culture may wish to avoid this unpleasant truth about itself. (534)
The powerful emotive image of the Son of God willingly dying ‘in our place’ and ‘for our sins’ tells us at least two things – and please feel welcome to add comments of your own …
First, that there is something profoundly and desperately broken about each one of us. I have never watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. But, I am told, there is a scene where the director filmed his own hands hammering in the nails into those of Jesus. Rutledge calls this “the inclusive nature of human depravity”.
Not a popular doctrine today for sure.
Second, substitution must be understood from the perspective of the Trinity, as God in three-persons
“acting together, with one will, for one purpose – to deliver all of humanity from the curse of Sin and its not-so-secret weapon, the Law. Jesus, the representative substitute, not only shows us how human will can align itself with the will of God, but also makes it happen, in his own incarnate person; and then, in the greatest act of love that has ever taken place, he gives his own person back to us, crucified and raised from the dead, the firstfruits of all who belong to him.” (534)