This Sunday past, our own Dr. Rand Luka delivered a compelling sermon, preaching on a concept foundational to our understanding of the atonement: satisfaction. Though the word itself—satisfaction—does not necessarily occur in Scripture as a term for this doctrine, Scripture nevertheless teaches this doctrine from start to finish. God’s Word indicates that God must be satisfied, that is, He must “be himself and act according to the perfection of his nature or ‘name’” (124).
John Stott, in his excellent book on the atonement titled The Cross of Christ, notes that “Scripture has several ways of drawing attention to God’s self-consistency, and in particular of emphasizing that when he is obliged to judge sinners, he does it because he must, if he is to remain true to himself” (124). God’s judging of sinners, and pursuing justice, happens out of His own immutable character. Stott clarifies,
To say that he must ‘satisfy himself’ means that he must be himself and act according to the perfection of his nature or ‘name’. The necessity of ‘satisfaction’ for God, therefore, is not found in anything outside himself but within himself, in his own immutable character. It is an inherent or intrinsic necessity. The law to which he must conform, which he must satisfy, is the law of his own being. (124)
That being said, where do we see this in Scripture; where does God’s Word indicate that he must be satisfied in regards to the sin and sinfulness of mankind? Stott explains how the very idea of sacrifice requires the idea of satisfaction. Stott spends considerable space in his book working these ideas out. But there are other ways, other than the notion of sacrifice, in which Scripture communicates the doctrine of satisfaction.
Stott notes the following ways Scripture describes and illuminates God’s obligation to remain true to himself—to satisfy himself: the language of provocation, the language of burning, and the language of satisfaction itself.
Stott demonstrates that, in the Bible, Yahweh is often provoked to anger or jealousy, or both as in Deuteronomy 32:16 where the ESV reads, “They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger.” Stott explains, “the language of provocation expresses the inevitable reaction of God’s perfect nature to evil. It indicates that there is within God a holy intolerance of idolatry, immorality and injustice. Wherever these occur, they act as stimuli to trigger his response of anger or indignation” (124).
Secondly, the Scriptures use language associated with burning to describe God’s character which demands satisfaction. God’s anger is often referred to as a fire that is kindled, burning, and consuming. Yahweh is said to ‘burn with anger’ whenever his people sin in disobedience and covenant breaking. Connecting this idea to the previous one, Stott notes, “As with the provocation of Yahweh to anger, so with the fire of his anger, a certain inevitability is implied” (125). That is, God’s ‘fiery’ anger would burn until judgment had been rendered at which time the burning of his wrath would cease, having consumed that which fueled it. Stott summarizes, “The imagery of fire endorses what is taught by the vocabulary of provocation. There is something in God’s essential moral being which is ‘provoked’ by evil, and which is ‘ignited’ by it, proceeding to ‘burn’ until the evil is ‘consumed’” (126).
The Bible does use some words associated with satisfaction. These words confirm God’s need to be satisfied, they confirm that “that God must be himself, that what is inside him must come out, and that the demands of his own nature and character must be met by appropriate action on his part” (126). Consider Ezekiel 5:13-16 ESV where God’s ‘spends’ His anger and ‘vents’ His fury in order to ‘satisfy’ Himself:
“Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the Lord—that I have spoken in my jealousy—when I spend my fury upon them. Moreover, I will make you a desolation and an object of reproach among the nations all around you and in the sight of all who pass by. You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes—I am the Lord; I have spoken— when I send against you the deadly arrows of famine, arrows for destruction, which I will send to destroy you, and when I bring more and more famine upon you and break your supply of bread.”
Stott explains the words used in this passage, declaring, “Indeed, only when Yahweh’s wrath is ‘spent’ does it ‘cease’. The same concept of inner necessity is implied by these verbs. What exists within Yahweh must be expressed; and what is expressed must be completely ‘spent’ or ‘satisfied’” (126).
The bible certainly has more to say about this doctrine of satisfaction, however these few examples alone indicate the validity and necessity of the concept.