The Self-Substitution of God


What does self-substitution mean? In his book, Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of prisoners of war working on the Burma Railway during World War Two. At the end of each day, the guards collected the tools from the work party. On one occasion a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. "All die! All die!" he shrieked, cocking, and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward, and the guard clubbed him to death with his gun while he stood silently to attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again, and no shovel was missing. That one man had gone forward as a substitute to save the others. In the same way, Jesus went forward and satisfied justice by dying in place of us.

Jesus was our substitute. He endured crucifixion for us. Cicero described crucifixion as “the cruelest and hideous of tortures." He was stripped and tied to a whipping post where Roman soldiers flogged Him with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp jagged bone and lead. Eusebius, the third-century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: "the sufferer's veins were laid bare, and…the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure." The Lord was then taken to the Praetorium, the Roman courtyard inside the fortification, and a crown of thorns was thrust onto His head. Then came the mocking by a battalion of 600 men where He was also hit about the face and head. He was then forced to carry a heavy crossbar on His bleeding shoulders until he collapsed, and Simon of Cyrene was press-ganged into carrying it for Him.

When they reached the site of the crucifixion, Jesus was again stripped naked. The Roman soldiers then laid Him on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms, just above the wrist. His knees were twisted sideways so that the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and the Achilles' tendon. Christ was lifted up on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground. He was then left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd and in unimaginable pain for six hours while His life slowly drained away. The worst part was not the physical trauma, nor even the emotional pain of being rejected by the world and deserted by His friends, but the spiritual agony of being separated from the Father for us—as He carried our sins. This is what we mean by the self-substitution of God.


Because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in full payment for what your sins deserved, God is now able to grant those who will receive it, a full pardon. The Lord shows us that He is not aloof from suffering. He has taken all and more than many of us deserved upon Himself. He died in place of us and for us. On the cross, God revealed His love for us.


For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).


If you believe the truth of what God has done for you, the gift of righteousness and peace along with the Holy Spirit will flood your mind and heart. He is as near as a prayer. Can you speak to Him and tell Him that you need forgiveness for things you have done? Ask Him to come into your life, and receive the gift of eternal life.


Taken from the series I’m New At This, click here for the study, Why Did Jesus Die? Keith Thomas