In our place… or on our behalf?

I have heard a thousand times that Jesus died “in my place”. Yet wherever I look in Scripture it states He died “for me”, that is, on my behalf. The words “substitute” and “substitution” do not appear anywhere in the entire salvific narrative of Scripture.

In World War II many thousands of soldiers died for their country. We would say of them that they died “for us” – that is for our sakes – so that we could live in a better world. What they did not do was to die “in our place”; we were never in the firing line. They died their own death, at a particular moment in history, in order that we might be free. “For us” and “in our place” are not synonymous. 

Why then do so many Christian leaders mix these two up?

Fleming Rutledge’s “The Crucifixion” is a timely work, seeking to widen our perspective on The Atonement by exploring all the Biblical motifs. Yet even she exhibits this same blindness. The Chapter on “Substitution” focuses on Christ as our substitute and Fleming boldly argues that “huper” (translated throughout scripture as “for us”) must also be allowed to mean “in place of us”.

I disagree. (And the article linked here also begs to differ:

A quick Bible search (e-sword is a great tool for this) shows that neither “substitute” nor “substitution” appear in the whole of Scripture other than Leviticus 27:10 and 27:33. Yes, you got that right. So Isaiah? Psalms? New Testament? – Nothing. Mind boggling isn’t it? The notion of “in my place”, “in our place” or “in place of”, in relation to Christ, comes up just as empty. Can it be that Substitutionary Atonement is actually misguided?

Just a little bit of logic can also resolve this…

Christ is our passover lamb. I could not possibly be a passover lamb! Christ is a passover lamb for me, but not in my place.

Christ presented himself as a sin offering. I could not possibly be a sin offering! Christ is a sin offering for me, but not in my place.

Christ is our mercy seat. I could not possibly be a mercy seat! Christ is a mercy seat for me, but not in my place.

and so it goes on.

Christ is not our substitute. He did not switch places with me. I will still have to die my own death. But He died for me, on my behalf. He died the death that only the Son of God could. And through faith in His blood we now have eternal life, and the redemption of our bodies. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

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