There are two dictionary definitions for the word recompense, and both are applicable to the biblical doctrine of the atonement. Recompense means a) “to give something to by way of compensation (as for a service rendered or damage incurred),” and b) “to pay for.” The word is found in verses such as Luke 14:14 where Jesus advises His disciples to invite the poor to their banquets, those who could not “recompense” or repay them and the disciples’ recompense (reward) would be in heaven.
Further examples of recompense in the Bible are Jeremiah 25:14 where God promises to recompense (repay) the oppressors of the Israelites; Ruth 2:12 in which Boaz asks a recompense of blessing on Ruth for her good deeds; and Proverbs 20:22, which advises us not to say we will recompense (repay) evil for evil but wait on the Lord for deliverance. This thought is reiterated in Romans 12:17 where Paul tells us to “recompense no man for evil.” Hebrews 10:30 contains the well-known admonition against taking vengeance on others. God, we are told, will recompense or repay.
The doctrine of the atonement—Christ’s payment for the sin of mankind on the cross—is the most significant example of recompense in human history. Both meanings of the word recompense are seen in the atonement. Jesus both gave something by way of compensation and paid for something. What He gave was His own perfect life in order to compensate for the sin of all those who would ever come to Him in faith. On the cross, He exchanged His perfect righteousness for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:17) and paid in full the penalty for that sin. What He paid was the debt owed to His Father for our sin.