It’s Time for New Thinking on Atonement, Part 4: Union with the Substitute

This eight-part series introduces the new perspective of Realistic Substitution, which unties the knots and answers the questions that previous theories could not. It is the ancient Realistic view of Adam further developed and applied to Christ.

Old Testament Pictures of Union with the Substitute
One vital principle of substitution is union with the substitute. How is one to justly die in the place of another, unless the two can be joined into one? We find this principle richly displayed in various themes in Scripture.

The first sacrifice was when God made clothing of animal skin to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve, whose sin incurred their nakedness.

Gen. 3:10-11 ESV
And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

Gen. 3:21 ESV
And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

This was such a beautiful picture of substitutionary sacrifice! The skin from the animal’s back was now on their back—they were walking around in its skin as if they had become the animal; while it had died for their sin as if it had become them. The animal covered the nakedness of their sin through its death. They put on the substitute like a garment.

Another way in which union with the substitute is pictured is when the sacrifice is to be eaten. On the first Passover, in Egypt, lambs were sacrificed in place of the firstborn.[9] They had to be eaten, and this was a picture of union:

Ex. 12:6b-8 ESV
…the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it.

To eat the sacrifice was to take it into one’s being, which was a picture of the sinner and the substitute becoming one.

Because the ultimate sacrificial substitute would be the man, Christ Jesus, we find the theme displayed without direct reference to sacrifice, in the lives of two brothers. Esau sold his birthright for sinful greed, and the lastborn, Jacob, gained it. And how did he gain it? By putting on the skin of the firstborn, so to speak—the skin of an animal as substitute for the skin of Esau—and going to the father in his place.

Gen. 27:15-16 ESV
15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of Esau her older son, which were with her in the house, and put them on Jacob her younger son. 16 And the skins of the young goats she put on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck.

That which Esau had coming was then given to Jacob. What did Isaac say?

Gen. 27:22 ESV
22 So Jacob went near to Isaac his father, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

Here we have a picture of the substitute wearing the skin (and garments) of one he is standing in the place of.

As sinful children of the firstborn-Adam, our birthright was the wrath of God. And when the time was right, God the Son (the Lastborn-Adam) put on the same hairy skin that we have—our humanity and our flesh and bones—and stood before the Father in our place to take what we had coming. Can you imagine the Father saying, “The voice is God’s voice, but the hands are the hands of a man,” as the Lamb of God died in our place?

What is prescribed in the New Testament as a picture of our salvation?

John 6:53-57 ESV
53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.

1 Cor. 11:23-26 NKJV
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” 25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Both passages symbolically point to the same thing: we are to be joined to Christ by taking Him into our being—and this can only happen as we take His death into our being—the death by which we are able to be joined to Christ and saved by Him.

Rom. 6:2b-3 ESV
…How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

This baptism is not an immersion into water, but into the Holy Spirit, by which Christ is sent into our hearts. Here, it is said that we died to sin, and that fact is explained in v. 3 by our immersion into His death when we were immersed into Him. When Christ comes into the life and heart of a man, He brings the death of His cross with Him. Both must be embraced or neither will come. The condition of forsaking self, sin and the world (which is true of a repentant faith) is demonstrated in subjecting ourselves to the cross of Christ, the crucifying of our old man (our old self-life) as we embrace both Christ and His cross. Only through death can new life in Christ be ours.

We are even said to “put on Christ” like a garment—not His skin but His Spirit.

Gal. 3:27 ESV
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

It is in this sense of the sinner and substitute becoming one that “at-one-ment” finds profound meaning (even if unintended by Tyndale).

[9] The firstborn symbolizes those of the race of the first Adam; while the lastborn symbolizes the last Adam (Christ). See “Saved by the Blood of the Lamb,” published at and at