When we confess that Jesus is our Substitute most people mean this:
Jesus stands in our place - living the life we should have lived, dying the death we should have died
I wonder though how many also have this understanding of Jesus' substitution:
He sits on the bench for the first half before the Coach brings Him on as match-winner in the closing stages.
I find that many Christians, though believing in the pre-existence of Christ, function with an understanding akin to this latter belief.
Though we shout from the roof-tops the centrality of Christ, we affirm His exclusivity, His supremacy, His full deity - in practice our gospel has Jesus coming late to the game to solve a problem He's had nothing to do with. We insist that He is the crux, the ultimate, the final, the greatest, the fulfilment but somehow lose that He is the Beginning, the Author, the Logos, the Creator, the Head etc.
In such theology Jesus becomes the Kappa and the Omega, the Middle and the End. The foundations are laid. God is defined (monadically). Humanity is defined (apart from the true Man). The God-man relation is taken for granted (according to these Christ-less definitions). Sin, law, wrath, sacrifice, blessings, hope etc are slotted into place. And then Jesus comes to find His place within this pre-fab mould.
But we know this can't be right. Jesus is not merely the cherry on the cake. He is the flour, eggs, sugar, butter and everything else besides. We know this because we have come to experience life in Christ. And it is not the experience of Jesus-the-bridge-to-something-else. He has not taken us by the hand to another reality (heaven, glory, forgiveness, God), He Himself is our all in all. All those other things find their meaning in Him and only in Him.
Now it seems to me there are three ways that this christocentricity can be argued:
- From the New Testament back
- From the Old Testament forwards
Systematically we point to verses like Matthew 11:25-30 or John 1:18 or Colossians 1:15 and say Christ is, was and ever shall be the one and only Mediator of the Father in revelation and salvation. This, when grasped, opens our eyes to see that all of history, all of theology and all of God to His very depths is truly trinitarian and christocentric. Glory!
But of course, people will soon ask you to show it in biblical-theology terms. So we could appeal to the New Testament. Jesus was constantly saying things like He was the One who spoke with Abraham (John 8:56), He was the One the prophets persecuted (Matt 5:11-12), He was David's Lord (Matt 22:42-45), He was the One who kept pursuing Jerusalem (Matt 23:37). Or Paul would say Christ accompanied Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4,9), Hebrews insists Moses trusted Christ (Hebrews 11:26), Jude asserts that Jesus saved Israel out of Egypt (Jude 5). And this gets people excited. For a while.
And then someone says: "Ahhh, with what freedom the Apostles imposed christocentricity on the Hebrew Scriptures." And all of a sudden you get odd things asserted like: "It's ok for Apostles to retrospectively award a Christ-focus to the OT even though the Jewish authors intended nothing of the sort." And thus a rarely substantiated but practically unimpeachable maxim is born: "They spoke better than they knew."
Well let's put to one side the lack of Scriptural warrant for this 'spoke better than they knew' theory. Let's set aside the ethical conundrum of Apostles modelling such dodgy hermeneutics. And let's set aside the logical absurdity of post-humously granting OT saints encounters with Christ. Instead let's move to the third argument. Because if I can show that the OT by itself proclaims Christ then all such claims will be shown to be completely unnecessary.
So here's my assertion that I will seek to unpack over a long series of posts: The OT on its own grounds, in its own context, according to its own intention is a plain and understood revelation of Christ. I will seek to argue that,
- Christ is active pre-incarnation
- He is the Mediator in Old Testament times as well as New
- He Mediates as a distinct Person, divine and yet differentiated from God Most High
- He was trusted by (the faithful) OT saints as their LORD and as the One who was to come to save
- In this way the object of saving faith has always been Christ
- And in this way the experience of true faith has always been irreducibly trinitarian and christological.
Here's how the posts developed: