With the exception of the cross, no example of sacrifice is more significant than that of Abraham going to Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac, his beloved child of promise (recorded in Genesis 22). Ellen White wrote of this experience,
“It was to impress Abraham’s mind with the reality of the gospel, as well as to test his faith, that God commanded him to slay his son. The agony which he endured during the dark days of that fearful trial was permitted that he might understand from his own experience something of the greatness of the sacrifice made by the infinite God for man’s redemption. No other test could have caused Abraham such torture of soul as did the offering of his son. God gave His Son to a death of agony and shame.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 154.
Abraham was posed with a dilemma, in which he had to choose between God and Isaac. By his faithful following through with God’s command, Abraham demonstrated that his trust in God was implicit. When Isaac asked Abraham, “Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:7-8). Perhaps this is what Paul was referring to in Hebrews 11:17-19,
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
God did come through. Before Abraham could do any harm to his son, “…the angel of the LORD called out of heaven, and said, Abraham, … Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him.” (Genesis 22:12-13). Verse 14 says that “…Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.” That animal, which God provided, prefigures the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, on whom “the Lord has laid . . . the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6, 7; Acts 8:32, NKJV). On the surface it seems like a one to one substitution. The ram died instead of Isaac.
Thus, it seems like Jesus died instead of us. We know that a substitute is a replacement of sorts. But this idea has two problems: First, the Bible is clear that the innocent does not die for the guilty. And secondly, if we follow the logic of the idea of ‘instead of me’, it leaves us without hope of eternal life. Let us tackle the problem with number 1. These texts, Deuteronomy 24:16, Jeremiah 31:29- 31, Ezekiel 18: 4, 20 are very clear that guilt is not transferable. God has indicated that each person will die for his own Sin, and He does not go against His own principles. These texts provide ample evidence that Christ could not die ‘instead of us.’, because neither innocence nor guilt are transferable. Interchangeable guilt and innocence go against the justice of God. With this in mind let’s now look at problem number 2: Christ dying instead of us leaves us without a hope of eternal life. Let’s read the following story to illustrate this point.
A story is told of a prominent Pastor approaching a security guard while the guard was working. After exchanging pleasantries, the guard said he was a Christian. The Pastor asked, “Really? If you are a Christian, why do you smell like beer?” The guard answered with confidence, “I am not under the law, but under grace. Christ abolished the Law on the cross. He did what he did, so now I am free to do as I wish.” The Pastor asked him, “In other words, Christ suffered so you would not have to?” The guard said, “Yes.” The Pastor replied, “So, Christ died so you would not have to?” The guard answered, “Yes!” The Pastor then asked the guard, “So, Christ suffered and died so you would not have to?” “Yes,” replied the guard, “now you are getting it.” Then the Pastor said, “Oh, I see, so, if He suffered and died so you would not have to, then He went to heaven so you do not have to.” The guard’s smile at once disappeared, and looking puzzled, he said, “No! You are trying to confuse me.” The Pastor smiled warmly and told the guard, “I am just following your logic.” The guard said, “How can that be, something is not right.” The Pastor said, “Would you like me to explain?” The now perplexed guard responded, “Yes!”
The Pastor gave the following explanation. “If someone does something instead of me, it is he doing it, not me. It is his experience, not mine. Therefore, any reward belongs to him, not me. So, for me to share in the reward I have to share in the doing.” The guard then asked, “How can this be?” The Pastor gave this man the following illustration to make his point. “Let us say that I have a $20 bill, that bill has a stain on it. Where ever the bill goes, the stain goes. If the bill is destroyed, the stain is destroyed. Let’s say that I put the bill in a Bible. The Bible carries in itself the $20 bill, as well as the stain. Where ever the Bible goes, the $20 bill goes; so does the stain. Whatever happens to the Bible happens to the $20 bill as well as to the stain. It is as if they have become one. What if the Bible is burned? Then the $20 bill with its stain is also burned. The story of the Bible becomes the story of the $20 bill.” How then can Christ do something and it be credited to us? The only way this would be, is if we were to do it with Him, through Him or in Him. Isaiah 53 tells us that Christ “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…He bore the sin of (the) many” (Isaiah 53: 4, 12). If He bore the sins, they were in His possession. Speaking of this verse, Ellen White writes,
“The guilt of every descendant of Adam was pressing upon His heart. The wrath of God against sin, the terrible manifestation of His displeasure because of iniquity, filled the soul of His Son with consternation.” (Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 752-6.)
We share in Christ’s doing and reward by us being in Christ when He bore our Sin. Paul addresses this concept in the book of Hebrews chapter 7 by stating that Levi paid tithes to Melchisedec. How could Levi pay tithes to Melchisedec if Levi was not alive then? Levi, “… was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him” (Hebrew 7:10). This indicates that when Abraham paid the tithes, Levi paid the tithes. By the same token, when Adam sinned, we sinned as we were all in his loins. Adam in Hebrew means mankind. In Adam, God created the entire human race. Therefore at the fall, we inherited Adam’s genes, and his bent to sin. To save us, God put the entire human race in Christ – the last Adam or mankind (1 Corinthians 15: 45) at His incarnation. Consequently in the second Adam, God recreated the entire human race. Paul expressed this in Romans 5:12, 17 –19,
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.”
God put us in Christ, and consequently, His story is our story. His life is our life. His perfect obedience is now humanity’s perfect obedience, and by faith it becomes our personal experience. As a result, when we say that Christ is our substitute, we do not mean that He is a vicarious substitute. No, He really did die, and His identification with us is so complete, that He became us; one with us. Thus, what is meant by the concept of Christ our substitute, is really that of a shared substitution.
He identified with us, emotionally, physically and genetically. Tempted in all things as we are, (yet without Sin) He is our strong help in temptation (Hebrew 2: 18). Isaiah 1:18 says, “…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” We should rejoice and give thanks, for this is what Christ accomplished on the Cross and if we believe, His history is ours personally.