This is by no means an exhaustive case for Penal Substitution, but it is a fairly decent one in my opinion. There are many other verses that speak about each point, and I encourage you all to look them up.
There are two aspects of Christ’s nature that I will address in this post. These are as follows:
- Christ as sacrifice
- Christ as ransom
- Christ is the lamb of God.
In John 1:29 John the Baptist calls Jesus the “lamb of God, come to take away the sin of the world”. So John is equating the Christ with a sacrificial lamb. This lambs purpose is to “take away the sin of the world”.
The Hebrew word for “sacrifice” is Korban, which means to draw near to God. We see in the many instances in which this word is used that a sacrifice is an offering up of a thing so that you draw near to God.
The offering (sacrifice) given to draw near to God is blood. But then we must ask “how does blood allow for a person to draw near to God?”
Leviticus 17:11 says “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”
So what is the significance of blood (which is the life of the flesh) as a means by which one draws near to God?
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and because all have sinned (Romans 3:23) all are dead in their sin (Ephesians 2:5). Yet somehow, it is through life (blood) that the dead can draw near to the living God.
- Pouring Out Life Unto Death
Through the pouring out of life (blood) over the dead, those dead are made alive so that they may enter into eternal life with God. That blood is poured out to God, sacrifices are given as an offering to God. So for some reason, God has decreed that life must be poured out in order for the dead to be made alive (for how can the dead draw near to God? Only the living can do that). So somehow, the pouring out of blood (note that all sacrifices had to be bled to death) - which symbolizes life - allows the dead to be made alive and draw near to God.
Jesus is the lamb. He pours out his lifeblood until he dies, and in this death we are made alive. Am I the only one who sees a type of exchange going on here? I am dead, Christ is alive. Christ dies, and that makes me live. This is a trade. My death for his life. He takes on my death, I take on his life. Being washed by his blood, I am made clean (Rev. 22:14). By being covered in his life, I am made alive. By covering me in his life, he dies. He trades it. Before God the father, Christ is dead and I am alive.
- The Great Exchange
Jesus gives his life, and takes on our death. Death, as we have said, is the price (wages) of sin. It is the result, the effect, the payment, the penalty. No matter how you want to read Romans 6:23, you cannot deny the fact that the word “wages” means wages. Use whatever synonym you want. Payment, price, cost, salary, etc. The payment of sin is death, the price of sin is death, the cost of sin is death, the salary of sin is death. The fact is that our due for sin is death. Christ, as we have seen, has taken on death so that we may have life. He takes on the due, the price, the payment, the cost of sin. He pays the price. This is what Penal Substitution teaches. Christ pays the price (in this context, another good synonym for price is penalty) for our sin, and in so doing gives us his life.
- Once for All
Because Jesus paid our penalty for us, in order to completely atone for our sins, he must pay all of that penalty. The sacrifice of animals cleaned physical things (Hebrews 9:9), but the sacrifice of Christ cleaned the heart (Hebrews 9:23, 26). Thus, there must be something deeper with Christ’s sacrifice than with that of animals. For the blood of animals could never take away sins, while the blood of Christ could (Hebrews 10:4). His sacrifice must pay for more than physical death (as that is only part of the death wage), but also our spiritual death (shown clearly in Gods wrath on the final judgement).
Christ being our sacrifice shows that Christ paid the penalty for our sins and imparted his life to us.
- Christ as Ransom
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
1 Timothy 2:5-6
A ransom is a price that must be paid for the purchase of a person. Jesus is this ransom, he is the payment for us.
- Who is Being Paid
Salvation implies being saved from something. What are we being saved from? Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1:10 “Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come”. This is an explicit teaching that Jesus saved us from the wrath of God.
We are under the wrath of God by nature (Ephesians 2:3), and so it is to God that we are to be held accountable (Romans 3:19), and to God that the ransom must be paid. We store up for ourselves wrath due to our hardness of heart (Romans 2:5). He is the one who demands a price, and he is the one to whom Jesus provides a ransom. Jesus paid God for us by his life.
Further, Psalm 49:7 says “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life”. In ancient Hebrew poetry it was a common literary practice to repeat the same thing twice but with different wording (for example, the first two lines of Psalm 19). We see this same literary device used in Psalm 49:7. No man can ransom another in the first line, and no one can pay to God the price for his life in the second line. Thus teaching that the ransom for our lives is to be paid to God.
- What is Being Paid.
Due to sin, Gods wrath is made evident in death. It is the earthly payment for our sins. As Genesis 3:22-24 says, God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden so that they may not eat of the tree of life and live forever. This was God’s punishment, that they must die. “For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (v. 19). This is what Paul means when he says that “the wages of sin is death”, it is the payment we have earned through our rebellion against God. A punishment dished out through wrath, which we have stored up due to that rebellion.
But death is not the only way God pours out his wrath. It is evident that sinning against God merits everlasting (however you wish to define everlasting) hell (Revelation 21:8)
- What Kind of Ransom Would Do?
So if Jesus saved us from the wrath to come, and he did so by paying a ransom to God, what payment would that be? What payment would God be willing to accept if the price on our heads is both death and hell?
- The Price Must be Paid.
God cannot contradict himself, and so if he says in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, that must be true. However, God also says that there is none that are righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). Therefore, if God is bound by his own word, then no one should enter the kingdom of God. How then are we saved? What ransom would God be willing to accept? God has decreed that the unrighteous cannot enter the kingdom of God and his word is final. What is the solution? How can we be ransomed? What price can be paid to God for us?
- You Can’t Clean Yourself Up.
Doing good works through faith cannot in itself erase the unrighteousness of the past. If I commit a sin, and then I commit a good deed, that sin is still in my past, it is still there, written in Gods book, I am still unrighteous. So I can’t make my unrighteousness go away by doing good. Indeed, my good works are as filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6). I can’t work off my payment. So I repeat, how can we be ransomed? What kind of payment would God accept if he cannot go back on his own sovereign decree? I am unrighteous, I have and have had a hard heart, I have stored up wrath and cannot enter the kingdom of God. Unless…what? The bible says unless a ransom is paid, but what kind of ransom could fulfil the requirements set?
- The Ransom is Wrath.
The ransom must be equivalent in value to the penalty. This is the solution. Gods decree has been made, the unrighteous cannot enter the kingdom of God. Only the righteous can. If Jesus is our ransom, he pays a price equal to the one due us so that we may be free from that penalty. That is what it means to be ransomed, to be freed through payment. If the penalty is wrath, and wrath is shown by withholding the tree of life (i.e. giving death) and by hell, Jesus must pay a ransom equivalent in severity as that penalty. The only thing equal to Gods wrath is…well…Gods wrath. Thus if Jesus is our ransom, the payment to God for us, he had to bear God’s wrath. This does away with the penalty for our unrighteousness, because that penalty has been paid. So we are no longer seen as unrighteous and can thus enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s what you might call being justified before the God whom we owe.
To be ransomed by God, to God, means that God had to pay a price that somehow does away with our unrighteousness. The only way to do away with our unrighteousness is to bear that unrighteousness and its effects (penalties) on our behalf, as a substitute.
For God to merely throw the price away is for God to let the unrighteous enter the kingdom of heaven, which would mean he was lying in 1 Corinthians 6:9 when he said the unrighteous couldn’t enter into heaven. God says the unrighteous have a price to pay, then the unrighteous have a price to pay, period. He shows mercy in paying that price himself. You may not understand how that is merciful, but the only other option is to make God out to be a liar. The only other option is that God was lying when he said that our unrighteousness merits wrath and that wrath must be dished out.
- Final Conclusion
The doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement is evident both in the biblical teaching that Christ was the sacrifice for our sin, and in the biblical teaching that Christ paid the ransom for our sin. Both involve a penalty (price), both involve Jesus paying that price on our behalf. Thus Penal Substitution is biblical.