For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
How could God put the sins of the world on an innocent third person? Jesus was not an innocent third person – He is the innocent First Person! That’s how R. A. Torrey answers the question in a Christian magazine published in 1909. Jesus is “the Son of Man,” the representative Man who is truly divine. That means Jesus is not a third person; no third person could have done the job. Jesus is the first Person of the universe. It is an amazing truth that God takes our sin and puts it on Himself.
Here is the answer written by R. A. Torrey in the pages of the The Institute Tie. Torrey addresses the question on page 751 in volume 9 of the bound edition of the magazine and I reproduce it here as published (except for a missing quotation mark):
How could God punish His innocent Son for the guilt of man?
The doctrine of the Bible is not that God, a holy first Person, takes the sins of man, a guilty second person, and lays them upon His own holy Son, an innocent third Person. That is the way the doctrine is often misrepresented. In fact, it is the representation usually made by those who reject the Bible doctrine of substitution.
The real teaching of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is not the third Person, that he is indeed the first Person, “that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19), and that in the atoning death of His Son, instead of laying punishment of guilty man upon an innocent third Person, God takes the shame and suffering due to man upon Himself; and so far from that being unjust and cruel it is amazing grace!
Furthermore, Jesus Christ was the second Person. He was not merely a man. He was “the Son of man,” the representative Man, the head of the race. No ordinary man could bear the guilt of other men, but “the Son of man,” the representative Man, could.
If we take the teaching of the Bible, not in a fragmentary way but as a complete whole, it is the most wonderful philosophy the world has ever known. We will ponder and admire its inexhaustible depths throughout eternity. But if we take any one doctrine out the other doctrines become absurd. If we give up the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ, then the doctrine of the atonement becomes an absurdity, and the difficulty suggested by this question naturally arises. Or if we give up the doctrine of the real humanity of Christ, the doctrine of the atonement loses its profound significance. But if we take all the Bible says, namely, that Jesus was really divine, “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16), and that He was truly man, not merely a man but “the Son of man,” the representative Man, then the doctrine of the atonement presents no difficulties but an amazing depth of truth.
It is strange how little the average objector to the doctrine of substitution knows about the real doctrine of the Bible on this point. Instead of fighting what the Bible really teaches he is fighting a figment of his own uninstructed imagination.