In Punished For Us? I wrote about how Jesus was not substitutionally punished on our behalf by the Father, yet that the theme of substitution is frequently seen in the writings of the early church fathers and is clear within the scriptures as well.
In Who Are the Elect? I explained how Jesus is the person elected on behalf of humanity as the representative (substitute) for all.
In this post I want to elaborate on what is means for Jesus to be the substitute for humanity. Summed up, it is the following:
Jesus took on everything that is human and thereby redeemed it.
This is why the concept of Jesus being fully, 100% human is significant. The early church father Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “For that which [Jesus] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.” (Also see the quotes at the end by Irenaeus of Lyon and Athanasius of Alexandria.)
Jesus became the substitute for all humanity on the cross, taking our curse, sin, corruption, condemnation, death, etc. upon himself in order to destroy them.
For example, let’s take a look at what the scriptures say about substitution as it relates to death.
Paul wrote that, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Although here the experience of death is personalized to an individual (“I”), Paul knew that its effects reached further.
In Romans 6:6 he writes, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” Notice it says our old self, not our old selves. Paul is speaking of humanity’s corporate old existence. We all had the same old self. And it was destroyed.
In the preceding chapter, Jesus is paralleled with Adam: “Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people” (Romans 5:18). Just as Adam affected all of humanity, so did Christ. Redemption is not about a select group of individuals but the whole of humanity.
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! – Pope Francis
Back to the theme of death, Paul elsewhere states it plainly: “One died for all, therefore all died” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Hebrews 2:9 also testifies to this reality: “Jesus suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
In essence, what is being communicated is that what happened to Jesus happened to us also. Thus could John write, “as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17).
In our Western culture, which I’m guessing most of my readers have grown up in, we’ve been conditioned to think of the work of the cross in terms of individuals. Of course, there is a personal element in which we enter into an experience of relationship with God. But it’s important that we don’t lose sight of its universal scope.
Jesus is the savior of all people and of the whole cosmos (1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 4:14).
I’m not keen on including a bunch of long quotes, but these are so good that I didn’t feel justified in shortening or excluding them.
[Jesus] caused humanity to cleave to and to become, one with God. For unless a human had overcome the enemy of humanity, the enemy would not have been legitimately vanquished. And again: unless it had been God who had freely given salvation, we could never have possessed it securely. And unless humanity had been joined to God, we could never have become partakers of incorruptibility. – Irenaeus of Lyon
Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all people were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of humanity is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against humanity have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death. – Athanasius of Alexandria
God became man in the fullest sense possible – He embraced humanity in this act of incarnation to such an extent that all of humanity would be represented in His person. The extent to which He became man, is the extent to which this salvation is reality to us. We were in His life, His death, His resurrection and His ascension. He took humanity upon Himself within Himself, with such intensity that God would consider His every act as the act of man. His accomplishments would be credited to the account of mankind. He represents man more completely, truly and fully than any other man. – Andre Rabe
You were represented in Him. He embraced your humanity. His death was your death; His judgment was your judgment; His resurrection was your resurrection; His glorification is yours; His blameless innocence is yours. His faith is a gift to you so that you no longer have to live by your own convictions, but by his convictions, but by the faith of the son of God – live from His point of view! His life is now your life – you no longer have to live yourself, live Him! (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15)…He is both God’s act of salvation and man’s response of perfect faith…Jesus Christ is simultaneously God’s invitation, and man’s acceptance; He is God’s call and man’s answer; He is God’s revelation and man’s response of faith…Jesus is so fully man that what He does, man does, and what happens to Him, happens to man. – Andre Rabe
Christ was on the one hand so one with God that what he did, God did, for he was none other than God himself acting thus in our humanity. And therefore there is no other god for us than this God, and no other action of God toward us than this action in which he stood in our place and acted on our behalf. On the other hand, he was so one with us that when he died we died, for he did not die for himself but for us, and he did not died alone, but we died in him as those whom he had bound to himself inseparably by his incarnation. Therefore when he rose again, we rose in him and with him, and when he presented himself before the face of the Father, he presented us also before God, so that we are already accepted of God in him one and for all. – Thomas F. Torrance
Christ as Man represents all mankind… all who belong to human nature are involved and represented – all human beings without exception. – Thomas F. Torrance
Jesus is the one in whom all the fullness of the Trinity exists (Col. 2:9), and He is also the one in whom all humanity exists (Col. 1:16-17). Jesus is the meeting place between God and man. When Jesus took on flesh, He united all of the Trinity with all of humanity. Because both are in Christ (the Trinity and Humanity) both are in union together in Jesus. Jesus did not just come as His own. And what I mean by that is because all humanity exists in Him, Jesus didn’t just live His own life and die His own death and resurrect His own existence. Jesus lived our lives and died our death and resurrected us. He didn’t just live and die for us, He lived and died as us! This is why Romans 6 is all about how we died with Jesus! This is why Paul says in Galatians 2 that he had been crucified with Christ! Jesus was not just 100% God and in union with 100% of God; He was also 100% man and in union with 100% of humanity. When Jesus became man, He became all men! When Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, all humanity was involved in some mystical way! This is why 2nd Corinthians 5 speaks of “all” humanity dying with Christ! What happened to Jesus happened to humanity! It happened to all humanity because all humanity is included in Him! Colossians 1 speaks of all things being created in Him and all things being held together in Him. Paul told Pagans in Acts 17 that in Christ they lived and moved and had their being. Because Jesus became man, all humanity became included “in Him.” When Jesus took on flesh, He swept up the whole of mankind into Himself. And because all mankind was and is in Him, whatever happened to Jesus happened to us. Jesus is what connected humanity to the Trinity. He was the meeting place of God and man. Through His incarnation, all of the Trinity was connected to all of humanity, and all of humanity was adopted into the life of the great dance. This is why Jesus is called the mediator between us and God. That is also why the great early church father Athanasius said, “The Son of God became man so that man might become God.” He didn’t mean that when Jesus became man that we were literally made God, but rather that because of the incarnation of Christ we were included into the relationship of the Trinity—that we’d be in union with God Himself! The Apostle Peter says something similar in one of his writings. Peter says that we have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1, NASB). Truly when Christ became man, man came into union with God. But do not think that man was not already in union with God even before the revealing of Christ. For in a great mystery Christ is also the lamb “slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13), and in Him all things were created and have always existed (Col. 1). So in a mystical way, because Christ is outside of time and in eternity, Christ has always been united with man. If it was any other way then man would not be alive. He is the very thing that holds us together and gives us life. As God, He has also been omnipresent within all things since they were created. When Jesus came onto the scene 2000 years ago, He was simply manifesting the truth that had been there all along—the truth that all things are in union with Him. Though this is a great paradox and mystery and is as easy to understand as eternity itself, so there is no need to try to figure out such things for it is impossible for our finite minds to comprehend. It’s best to just enjoy the mystery of it, and to hold these two paradoxical truths in tension. Christ has always been united to man, and when Christ became man He united Himself with man. They are both true. – Christian Erickson
The Vicarious Man – John Crowder