Did Jesus die for us and if he did, did he die in our stead? This is called substitutionary atonement and has been one of the main ways of understanding the death of Jesus. It is echoed in many of our hymns: ”˜There is a green hill far away’’”¦ He died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by his precious blood’.
But many scholars have considered this immoral. God is not a God of wrath who needs appeasement. How could he demand the death of his only begotten son? The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has therefore been regarded with suspicion and rejected by many. But it strong biblical support in Paul’s writings: ”˜I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me’.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God’
He himself bore our sins on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness’. 1 Peter.
The only way to avoid the suggestion that Jesus on the cross appeased an angry God is to realize that the work of atonement was not Christ’s alone but that ”˜God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’. If we see God suffering for us in Christ, the harshness of penal substitution is avoided.