The World edition of the Adventist Review had an interesting article entitled: It Is Finished Why did Jesus have to die?By Rolf Pohler It is meant as an article on Adventist Belief number 9. What is most interesting to me is what the article does not say. It gives the standard propitiation argument as if the early church used that word and combines that with the standard Substitutionary theory. Then it explains that God does not need to be propitiated because He is on our side and then instead of answering why the propitiation idea and substitution are needed it asks a series of questions and never answers them.
The real mission of Jesus was therefore “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark ; 1 Tim. 2:5 f.; 1 Peter f.). His perfect obedience and substitutionary sacrifice liberate us from our guilt; we receive forgiveness and a new life (Eph. 1:7; 5:2; 1 Peter ff.; Heb. 9, 10). The prophet Isaiah had already prophesied that the “servant of God” would give His life as a sacrifice for our guilt. “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5; cf. Dan. ).
But that doesn’t mean that Jesus was trying to placate an angry God and move Him to be benevolent toward us. After all, it was the Father Himself who sent His Son into the world “that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9 ff.). It was not necessary to win God over for us; He already was on our side. God does not love us because Jesus died for us; Jesus died because God loves us. God’s love is the reason and source, not the result or effect of the atonement.
But what was it then that made atonement and satisfaction—and therefore the death of Jesus—necessary? [emphasis supplied] Is it the profound disgust that God, the Perfect and Holy One, feels for all injustice? Is it the disregard for His just and holy law (Rom. )—the reflection of His character—that must be punished? Do we feel something of the same indignation—indeed, the “righteous anger”—that God feels in the face of the million-fold presence of sin and appalling injustice (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18 ff.; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 6:16 f.)?
You may think that he goes on to answer those questions but he does not. If we analyze his statements we see that he arrives at Substitutionary sacrifice by interpreting the writer of Isaiah referencing a part of Isaiah that the New Testament never repeats. He does use the part of Isaiah that was repeated in 1 Peter, by His stripes we are healed. But Peter does not use that in a Substitutionary sense:
(1 Pet NIV) When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Pet NIV) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet NIV) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
So the author supplies no New Testament evidence for the substitution idea even though the New Testament writers used Isaiah quotes in reference to Christ. No New Testament writer used the ones about it pleasing God to crush the person referred to in Isaiah (Isa 53:10). Peter supplies some of the sins that Christ had to bear in his body as they hurled insults at Him while they proceeded to kill Him on the tree.
Now let’s look at the question the author first asks: But what was it then that made atonement and satisfaction—and therefore the death of Jesus—necessary?
He does not answer his question but begins with what appears a non-sequitor, he says: Is it the profound disgust that God, the Perfect and Holy One, feels for all injustice?
When one looks at the crucifixion it is hard to see any justice there. How would that possibly lead to atonement and satisfaction? It makes no sense to even ask that question.
The author then writes: Is it the disregard for His just and holy law (Rom. )—the reflection of His character—that must be punished? Ok where would that have been punished in the life of Jesus, again it makes no sense.
He concludes his non-answers with: Do we feel something of the same indignation—indeed, the “righteous anger”—that God feels in the face of the million-fold presence of sin and appalling injustice (John 3:36; Rom. 1:18 ff.; 1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 6:16 f.)? At least here he acknowledges that the cross was not justice and that sin is appalling. But it does nothing to answer his original question.
I can’t help but think that this is a small victory for the forces of reason against the fallacy of penal/Substitutionary atonement theory. We have argued for a long time that there is no need to appease God and here a Substitutionary proponent agrees and then can’t answer what the atonement is if it is not appeasement of God or God’s law. It seems to me an acknowledgement that the logic of their position is lacking and in order to hold the party line of the church and the fundamental number 9 he has to dance around the issue by asking the important question and then obfuscating with additional questions which do nothing to answer the original question.
The sad fact is that most people reading the article won’t see the obfuscation they won’t even see that he does not answer the most important question, so we have to point it out to them. We should ask them why he does not answer his most important question the question that is at the heart of our fundamental belief no.9 when the article is supposedly explaining that belief. But be prepared for some rather illogical answers.