(Lesson 11 on Bible Doctrines) 

“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree…For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (I Peter 2:24; 3:18).


Definition: By substitutionary or vicarious atonement we mean that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died as our substitute, and that He paid the penalty for our sins.  “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3).



  1. The necessity for substitution arises out of the righteous and holy demands of our righteous and holy God that sinners must be punished for their sins.
  2. When Adam and Eve sinned and when by imputation Adam’s sin was placed to the account of the entire human race, it was necessary that God judge sin and that sinners be punished for their wickedness.
  3. Yet while God is holy and righteous, He is also a God of infinite love, patience, compassion, mercy, long-suffering, and grace.  God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11; cf. I Tim. 2:4; II Peter 3:9).
  4. God demonstrated this infinite love and compassion by sending His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins.  “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).   “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6).
  5. Christ took upon Himself the guilt that was ours and endured in His own body the wrath that should have fallen upon us, and made an acceptable payment to God whereby we who believe in Him could be reconciled to God.
  6. The story of the passover lamb (Ex. 12; cf. John 1:29, 36; I Cor. 5:7) illustrates the meaning of vicarious atonement.
  7. Another vivid Old Testament picture of  substitution is seen in the story of Abraham and Isaac.  “And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son” (Gen. 22:13).


  1. The substitutionary death of Christ is mentioned more than 175 times in the New Testament.  Besides this there are many prophetic and typical references to the death of Christ in the Old Testament.  “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities…” (Isa.53:5; cf. Ps.22).
  2. The substitutionary death of Christ is at the heart of the Gospel (I Cor.15:1-4; cf. 2:2; 11:26).
  3. Jesus Christ gave His life as a ransom, i.e., His death was the price paid to redeem others from death and hell (Matt.20:28).
  4. This doctrine is viciously attacked by the cults and liberals.  Anything that stirs up so much animosity from the demonic realm must be precious to God.



  1. Jesus Christ died for “us,” i.e., for those that believe in Him (II Cor. 5:21; Titus 2:14).
  2. Jesus Christ died for His church (Eph. 5:25).
  3. Jesus Christ died for the whole world (I Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; I John 2:2).  Provision was made for all.  All men are potentially forgiven.  Jesus Christ is “the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (I Tim. 4:10b).  The death of Christ is sufficient for all; but it is only efficient for those who believe in Him.
  4. “Jesus Christ died for the whole world. On the ground of Christ’s death God can deal with the whole world in mercy.” (R. A. Torrey, What the Bible Teaches).



  1. Message for unregenerate sinners: according to the Bible they stand condemned before a holy and righteous God.  “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18a).  “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
  2. If repentant sinners accept God’s provision; i.e., that He died on the cross for their sins, they will be saved. If they refuse God’s gracious offer of salvation, then the Lord Jesus Christ will not be their Saviour, but their judge (Matt. 25:41).

Pastor James Barker
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