As redemption was that part of God’s work of reconciliation that dealt with the problem of man’s sin, so expiation is that part that deals with the penalty of sin that the Law exacts on man the sinner.
Expiation means to undo the wrong done by paying or suffering the penalty for that wrong as demanded by law. In essence, expiation means to remove the penalty officially imposed by law which indicts and proves the sinner guilty. While there are no Greek words used in the New Testament that mean “to expiate” as used here, there is a key passage that deals with this specific truth. It’s Colossians 2:14.
Explanation of Colossians 2:14:
“having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
In verse 13 Paul speaks of the regeneration and redemption of the believing sinner when he says “… He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions …” Then in verse 14, he shows how this was accomplished through the death of Christ by the expiation of the sinner’s penalty.
“Having canceled out.” “Canceled” is the Greek exaleipho which means “to wipe out or off.” It was used:
- (1) of smearing out letters written on wax,
- (2) of an erasure of an indebtedness, and
- (3) of wiping out an item on an account. The question is, just what has been wiped out or canceled?
“The Certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us” answers this question. Literally we can translate this “the handwritten document in decrees (or commands) which was hostile to us.” This refers to the Old Testament Law that, in revealing God’s holy character, also reveals man’s sinfulness.
“Certificate of debt” is the Greek cheirographon which means “a hand writing” or “a handwritten document.” “Decrees” is the plural of dogma, “a decree, command, or ordinance.” It is interesting to note that the word cheirographon was actually used of a certificate of indebtedness like an IOU or a bond. In this regard, the Law was indeed, at least in part, a handwritten document consisting of laws or commands written by the finger of God (2 Cor. 3:7; Deut. 9:10). But these commands became indictments which charge all of mankind to be under sin and guilty before God. The Apostle strongly emphasizes this point. Though the Law is good, was designed for man’s blessing, and reveals God’s holy character, it also stands against man because it shows man to be a sinner and under the penalty of sin which is death (Rom. 3:19-20, 6:23, 7:7; Gal. 3:10). So, because of man’s condition in sin, the Law is viewed as against us (Col. 2:14), as bringing a curse (Gal. 3:10-12), as bringing death or as an administration of death (2 Cor. 7:7-13), and as holding man in bondage to sin and death (Gal. 4:3-5, 9; Rom. 7:10-14). No wonder the apostles stressed it is against us and hostile to us.
“And He has taken it out of the way.” How blessed and glorious this is. It strongly shows how reconciliation is a work accomplished by God in Jesus Christ alone. The verb “taken it out of the way” is the perfect tense of airo, “to lift up, take up or away, to remove or carry off.” The perfect tense presents this as a completed act with continuing results. The barrier has been taken out of the way, out of the picture.
“Having nailed it to the cross.” “Having nailed” is an adverbial participle in the Greek text which points us to the means of removal. The penalty of sin demanded by the decrees against us was taken out of the way by the death of Christ for believers. The culture and procedures of that day shed some interesting and illuminating light here.
Under the Roman procedure of trial and conviction, no one could be legitimately brought to trial until he had been officially indicted or charged with a prepared certificate of debt or a written indictment. On the certificate the criminal’s unlawful deeds or crimes were written. Then after trial, if convicted of the charges, his indictment with its offenses and the penalty was nailed to his prison cell door. There it remained, standing in the way of his freedom until the sentence was served or otherwise paid or removed. When once paid or served, the constituted authority would write “canceled” or “paid in full” on the indictment. The freed person would than take his indictment and nail it to his door showing his penalty had been paid and removed.
The apostle’s point is Jesus Christ has paid our certificate of debt with its charges and nailed it to His cross, showing forever that it has been paid in full.
Therefore, in the doctrine of expiation, Jesus Christ is the agent, the cross is the point and place, and the penalty of sin is its object.
Isaiah 53:4-11 “4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. 6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. 7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due? 9 His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. 10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. 11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.”
The doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ is closely related to expiation. As redemption was that part of reconciliation aimed at the problem of man’s sin, and expiation was that part which dealt with the concept of the penalty that man must pay, so substitution is directed toward the specific penalty required, the penalty of death (eternal condemnation under sin to the Lake of Fire).
By the substitutionary death of Christ we mean that Christ, as the innocent Lamb of God, physically died and suffered the penalty of eternal death in the place of the sinner, the actual guilty party (The fact that Christ had no sin of His own meant that He had no condemnation to eternal death (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22)), and He defeated the power of death to condemn to The Lake of Fire (Heb. 2:14-15; Acts 2:24). Thus, the significance of His sacrifice being substitutionary for all who believe – they too, being forgiven of all sin due to Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, are now declared sinless and after physical death have no condemnation to the Lake of Fire (Rom. 5:1, 6:23, 8:1-2). This means He took our place and bore the penalty of God’s judgment which we rightly deserve.
GREEK WORDS WHICH IMPLY SUBSTITUTION
There are two Greek prepositions that are important to this doctrine because they are used in the New Testament for the concept of the substitutionary death of Christ.
Anti. The basic and most common meaning of anti is “in the place of, in the stead of” and naturally teaches the concept of substitution, one thing in the place of another. The following passages illustrate this common usage.
- “… Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of (anti) his Father Herod” (Matt. 2:22).
- “… he will not give him a snake instead (anti) of a fish, will he?” (Luke 11:11).
With this in view, compare the following two parallel accounts in the Gospels which clearly point to the substitutionary work of Christ:
- “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but serve, and to give his life a ransom for (anti—in the place of) many” (Matt. 20:28).
- “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for (anti) many” (Mark 10:45).
Huper. The most common meaning of huper is “for the sake of,” but it may also be used likeanti to mean “in place of.” That huper may mean “in the place of” is clear from the following passages:
(1) Philemon 13 provides a good illustration that huper can be used in the sense of “in the place of.” Paul writes of Onesimus, the servant of Philemon and says: “whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf (huper) he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel.” Had the Apostle kept Onesimus with him, Onesimus would have served as a substitute for Philemon.
(2) Then in 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says: “therefore we are ambassadors for (huper) Christ (in the place of Christ), as though God were entreating through us.” Since Christ is no longer on earth preaching the gospel, believers are left here in His place as His ambassadors and representatives to entreat men to believe in the person and work of Christ.
The following are verses where huper is used of the substitutionary death of Christ:
Romans 5:8,“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for (huper) us.”
1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for (huper) our sins according to the Scriptures.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf (huper), that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Hebrews 2:9, “But we do see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for (huper) everyone.”
Hebrews 2:9 teaches us that Christ tasted death for every man and since man’s penalty for being a sinner is physical, spiritual and eternal death, Christ tasted, partook of both physical and spiritual in our place on the cross (but did not have to be condemned to eternal death because “he had no sin” of His own). When Jesus shouted out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” He was speaking judicially of God as the holy and righteous Judge who had placed the iniquities of all mankind on Him and who had thereby turned His face from the Son while He was bearing our iniquity in our place. At this time Christ died spiritually (separated from the Father) and was in some mysterious way cut off from the fellowship He had always known with the Father because He was bearing our sin (Isa. 53:4-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). After these dark hours on the cross Christ called out “it is finished,” meaning His redemptive work was done, He had borne our sin. He then bowed His head, gave up His spirit and physically died. By His death on the cross, He paid the penalty for all humanity and He became our substitute.
In Scripture the death of Christ is revealed to be a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Accordingly, John the Baptist introduced Jesus with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus in His death was actually the substitute dying in the place of all men. Although “substitute” is not specifically a biblical word, the idea that Christ is the sinner’s substitute is constantly affirmed in Scripture. By His substitutionary death the unmeasured, righteous judgments of God against a sinner were borne by Christ. The result of this substitution is itself as simple and definite as the transaction. The Savior has already born the divine judgments against the sinner to the full satisfaction of God.
[For a more in-depth study see soteriology “Study Series 1 Meaning, Need and Scope of Salvation”]