Another of the numerous passages which point to the idea of substitution as conveyed by the preposition “in behalf of” (huper) is Romans 5:8, where, by the way, the love of God and the death of Christ are intimately connected. Here we read: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The expression “for us” is more literally “in behalf of us.” Now it is certainly true that “in behalf of” cannot simply be substituted for “instead of,” or vice versa. The expression “in behalf of” certainly intends to emphasize the benefit of the death of Christ and also the beneficiaries. But it is equally certain that this “in behalf of” is utterly impossible except through Christ’s dying in our stead. And therefore when Scripture employs this preposition, “in behalf of,” in connection with the death of Christ, this invariably implies and includes the idea of substitution, but with the emphasis upon the benefit of that substitution. In connection with Romans 5:8 this is confirmed by the following verse, which points to the benefit which could only be ours by way of the substitutionary and expiatory sacrifice of Christ. For we read in verse 9: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.”

All this is confirmed also by what we read in Thayer’s “Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament” about the preposition huper:

. . . . Since what is done for one’s advantage frequently cannot be done without acting in his stead (just as the apostles teach that the death of Christ inures to our salvation because it has the force of an expiatory sacrifice and was suffered in our stead), we easily understand how huper, like the Latin pro and our for, comes to signify. . . . in the place of, instead of, (which is more precisely expressed by anti) . . . . .

In this same sense the term is also employed in II Corinthians 5:14, 15, a passage which I explained in greater detail on the Reformed Witness Hour last spring. In this passage we read: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” In this passage the term “for” (“in behalf of,” huper) occurs in connection with the death of Christ no less than three times. Here again, the emphasis is certainly upon the great benefits of that death of Christ and upon the fact of our being the beneficiaries of that death. But again, the former ideas are based strictly upon the idea of substitution. That this is true is very plain from the amazing statement, “that if one died for all, then were all dead,” and that too, in such a way that this death of both the one and the all issued in the life of both the one and the all. But how, indeed, can we judge that all were dead through the death of the one, except on the basis that the one died as the substitute for the all in the full and complete sense of the word? 

This same sense is very evident in connection with a strong designation of the expiatory nature of the death of Christ in II Corinthians 5:21: “For he hath made him to be sin for (“in behalf of,” huper, and thus also “instead of”) us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Again, the text points to the benefit, namely, “that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” But this benefit was accomplished only through an expiatory work of God Himself, wrought through Christ, and designated as “a being made sin for us.” And this expiation could be accomplished only by substitution. 

Strikingly enough, by the way, this same term “in behalf of” is used in the preceding verse of II Corinthians 5. And there it is rendered by the King James Version in the sense of “in the stead of.” For there we read: “. . . we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 

Finally, the fact that this term as used in Scripture in connection with the death of Christ denotes the idea of substitution is very graphically depicted by John 10:15-b: “and I lay down my life for (“in behalf of,” but only because it is also “instead of”) the sheep.” Now why is this passage such clear proof that “in behalf of the sheep” implies and is based on the idea of “instead of the sheep?” The answer lies in the figure of the good shepherd which the Lord Jesus employs in this passage. In the immediate context the Lord draws a contrast between the hireling and the shepherd. Thus in vss. 11-13: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” In this context, therefore, it is clear: 1) That the picture is that of the sheep coming under attack by the wolf. 2) The good shepherd comes to the rescue of the sheep; and in doing so he actually puts his life between the wolf and the sheep, warding off the attack from the latter, so that they go free while he bears the brunt of the wolf’s attack. 3) In so doing, the good shepherd not only lays his life on the line in behalf of the sheep, so that they go free; but he posits his life as a substitute for the sheep. He bears the attack instead of them. 

This figure the Lord Jesus here applies to Himself as the substitute for the sheep which the Father gave Him.

In conclusion, therefore, it is very evident that this element of substitution forms a distinct element in the nature of the atonement. Without it, the atonement of Christ could not be atonement.