The Atonement – Is Penal Substitution the Only Thing That Happened at the Cross?

UPDATEAndrew Cottingham has posted on how critical this all is to him

The answer to the question “Are you saying that Penal Substitution is the only thing that happened at the cross?” is a definite no. Whilst the concepts of sin, guilt, and punishment are indeed fundamental to what happened at the cross, the full picture of the atonement is much richer than that.

Sadly in the current debate, some have aggressively denied that Penal Substitution (PSA) has any place at all. As a result those of us who believe PSA is critical to an proper understanding of the cross respond by strongly defending it.

Others, including some who do not in fact deny PSA then accuse us of believing that PSA is the only model of the atonement found in the Bible. Neither I, nor the authors of Pierced For Our Transgressions, nor anyone else I am aware of actually believe that. We believe that on the cross Jesus took our punishment, but we also believe that the Bible describes what happened in other ways, and that as a result the concept of the atonement is much richer and broader in addition to Jesus suffering God’s wrath.

There are in fact a number of biblical pictures of the Cross, all of which have a richness, and none of which contradict anything we have been saying all these weeks about Jesus bearing our sins and God’s wrath. I will simply allow the Scriptures to speak for themselves about the results of Jesus’ death in terms of a number of pictures:

  1. The Law Court

    • “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)
  2. The Temple

    • “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25)
    • “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
  3. The Slave Market
    • “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
  4. The Family
    • “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
  5. The Graveyard

    • “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.” (Colossians 2:13)
  6. The Bankruptcy Court
    • “. . . by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14)
  7. The Battleground

    • “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15)
  8. The Immigration Office
    • “. . . has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13)
    • “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
  9. The Perfect Example

    • “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
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