We should clearly distinguish between an atonement metaphor such as the sanctuary system and the theological reality, the removal of our sin. The Bible talks about the reality of Jesus taking our sins many times - here is a sample of what is known as the great "Divine Exchange" -
- 2 Cor 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- Gal 1:4, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
- Gal 3:13, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
- John 3:16, For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
- 2 Cor 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…
- Isa 53:4-6, Surely He took on our infirmities and carried our sorrows; yet we considered Him stricken by God, struck down and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
That is, Jesus was treated as we deserve so that we can be treated as He deserved. The Pulpit commentary puts it this way:
Many have understood the word "sin" in the sense of sin offering
(Leviticus 5:9, LXX.); but that is a precarious application of the
word, which is not justified by any other passage in the New
Testament. We cannot, as Dean Plumptre says, get beyond the simple
statement, which St. Paul is content to leave in its unexplicable
mystery, "Christ identified with man's sin; man identified with
Christ's righteousness." And thus, in Christ, God becomes
Jehovah-Tsidkenu, "the Lord our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6). That
we might be made the righteousness of God in him; rather, that we
This is often stated another way - Jesus took the responsibility for our sin because we could not; we are helpless sinners! Paul discusses this again in Phil 2:5-11.
This idea was illustrated on during Jesus crucifixion - when the "iniquity of us all" was laid upon Jesus, darkness came over the land (Luke 23:44, 45) and Jesus called out, "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" It is almost as if God could not look upon the accumulated sin of the world.
Such is the great love that God and Jesus had for us that they would do this for sinners Note Paul's expression in Rom 5:6-11 -
For at just the right time, while we were still powerless, Christ died
for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man,
though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God
proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ
died for us.
Therefore, since we have now been justified by His blood, how much
more shall we be saved from wrath through Him! For if, when we were
enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His
Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through
His life! Not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord
Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Bengel succinctly states it this way:
2 Corinthians 5:21. Τὸν) Him, who knew no sin, who stood in no need of
reconciliation;—a eulogium peculiar to Jesus. Mary was not one, ἡ μὴ
γνοῦσα, who knew no sin.—ἁμαρτίαν ἐποίησε, made Him to be sin) He was
made sin in the same way that we are made righteousness. Who would
have dared to speak thus, if Paul had not led the way? comp. Galatians
3:13. Therefore Christ was also abandoned on the cross.—ἡμεῖς) we, who
knew no righteousness, who must have been destroyed, if the way of
reconciliation had not been discovered.—ἐν αὐτῳ, in Him) in Christ.
The antithesis is, for us.