Penal Substitution in the Old Testament

Theologically and biblically speaking, penal substitution refers to God’s gift of His Son to undergo the penalty of death as a substitute for fallen humanity, recent efforts to deny that teaching notwithstanding. The OT offers many examples of cases in which divine judicial action resulted in the deaths of offenders who violated God’s standards of righteousness. No clear evidence in the OT that each individual sin required its own sacrifice. In addition, the Levitical system of animal sacrifices required the death of an animal for sin. The Hebrew and the LXX supported by NT citations back up this concept of judicial punishment for sin. Twelve principles governed the offering of OT sacrifices that pertained to the corporate worship of Israel. Several OT texts illustrate penal substitutionary sacrifices in the OT. The first is the Passover of Exodus 12 in which God graciously spared guilty Israelites through the deaths of animals substituted for the firstborn in each household. Another OT text to illustrate penal substitution is Leviticus 16, the institution of the Day of Atonement. The scapegoat symbolized the removal of Israel’s sin to allow people to enter the presence of a holy God. The Day of Atonement expiated the nation’s sins, cleansed the sanctuary from sin’s pollution, and removed sins from the community. Isaiah 52:13–53:12 is a third text to illustrate penal substitution. The suffering servant of the LORD in this section clearly anticipates the Messiah’s coming substitutionary death as penalty for His people’s sins. The OT sacrificial system clearly laid the basis for penal substitution in awaiting Israel’s coming Messiah.

Read this article from the Masters Seminary Journal in PDF format here.

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