Atonement Wars, Part 3

Republished with permission. Originally appeared in Think on These Things, (Dec.-Jan 2010-2011). Read Part 1 and Part 2.

New Testament Support for Penal Substitutionary Atonement

As Our Substitute

We will begin by surveying some of the New Testament references that speak of Christ dying as our substitute. 2 Corinthians 5:21 heads the list: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Some have termed this “The Great Exchange” as the Sinless One took our sin upon Himself and gave us the righteousness of God. The implication is that this spiritual transaction is made possible only through the sacrifice of Christ. I Peter 2:24 adds detail, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Christ then became sin on our behalf (i.e. in our place) at the Cross, for it is there that He bore our sin in His body. He did so to free us from sin and bring us righteousness, but our healing was made possible only because of His wounds. I Peter 3:18 reiterates the same thought by saying, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God…” In Roman 5:8 Paul writes, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ death was “for us.” His death accomplished what nothing else could. Jesus Himself speaks of penal substitution when He states that He came “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And John the Baptist declared Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

One of our best hymn writers, Horatius Bonar (1808-1889) expressed it well,

‘Twas I that shed the sacred blood;
I nailed him to the tree;
I crucified the Christ of God;
I joined the mockery.

Of all that shouting multitude
I feel that I am one;
And in that din of voices rude
I recognize my own.

Around the cross the throng I see,
Mocking the Sufferer’s groan;
Yet still my voice it seems to be,
As if I mocked alone.1

Propitiation

While the Christus Victor and moral influence views of the atonement have biblical validity, neither adequately handles the Godward side of the atonement issues. That Christ died to set us free from the bondage of sin, death and Satan, and that He died to provide for us an example of perfect love, explains important facets of Christ’s death. However neither of these views, or any others except PSA, address why the death of Christ was necessary from the perspective of God Himself. Yet Scripture teaches that God is righteously angry at sin and therefore His wrath and judgment is being, and will eternally be, poured out on sinners who have not had their sins cleansed and forgiven. At issue is the fact that God is just in His judgment of sinners and, being holy God, cannot ignore our sin and accept us as we are. Something must take place that satisfies the righteous anger of God. That something is termed propitiation in the Scriptures. At the Cross Christ took upon Himself the righteous wrath of God that sinners deserve in order that He might appease the anger of God against sin and sinners.

Propitiation is foreign to the minds of modern people and often confused with pagan concepts. Pagans, both of biblical times and today, see propitiation as an act of man to keep vengeful and mean-spirited deities off their backs. These deities are often seen as anything but holy. As a matter of fact, they are viewed as super-sinners out for themselves. To keep them happy, or to secure their favor, pagans will sacrifice something of great value to them personally. The Hollywood picture of tossing a virgin into a volcano to please the gods and thus obtain victory in battle or to produce rain is one that comes readily to mind of many.

To speak of the true God as needing this pagan kind of sacrifice is offensive to God and perplexing to us. Therefore it is important to understand that biblical propitiation differs in at least two ways. In pagan sacrifice man is doing something to please the gods; in Christ’s sacrifice God has done something to satisfy His own righteousness. In pagan propitiation an evil, spiteful deity demands that his unholy appetites be met, while in Christ’s death the holiness of God is at stake. At issue with God is how can He who is infinitely holy accept people who are deeply corrupt and sinful? Something must take place to enable God to be Holy and at the same time accepting of sinners. At Christ’s death the holy nature of God was satisfied in order that sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ could be received by Him.

Still propitiation is difficult to swallow for many, which might explain why many modern English translations have replaced “propitiation” with such terms as “expiation” or “atoning sacrifice,” even though the proper translation for the Greek word hilasmos is unquestionably “propitiation.” Rightly understood however, the concept of propitiation gives the salvation process the fullness it deserves. Taking a look at a few terms will be helpful:

Expiation

Expiation is a fancy term that means that God has taken away our sins—they have been removed from us. Such removal of sin was made possible only through the substitutionary death of Christ. Isaiah 53:12 prophecies that the Messiah would bear the sins of many. Christ “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself… having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Heb 9:26, 28), and He has “released us from our sins by His blood” (Rev 1:5b). Expiation is directed at our sin, propitiation is directed at God’s holiness. Expiation purges us from sin; propitiation satisfies God’s just anger toward the sinner.

Propitiation

J. I Packer writes, “It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin, and canceling guilt.”2 Through propitiation the divine wrath is averted from us and placed on Christ. I like the way Thomas Schreiner frames the issue: “Modern people tend to ask, ‘How can God send anyone to hell?’ Paul asks a completely different question because he thinks theocentrically and not anthropocentrically. He asks how can God refrain from punishing people immediately and fully.”3

Reconciliation

David Clotfelter provides us with a very useful distinction: “If expiation is the removal of our guilt, and propitiation the removal of God’s wrath, reconciliation is the consequent renewal of relationship between God and us. Because we are no longer regarded as guilty and are no longer objects of wrath, there is now no barrier to hinder us from coming to God and experiencing peace with him…. The death of Jesus has opened the way for God to embrace those from whom He was previously estranged by their sin.”4

Redemption

“Propitiation focuses on the wrath of God which was placated by the cross; redemption on the plight of sinners from which they were ransomed by the cross.”5 James White makes this distinction: “Redemption contemplates our bondage and is the provision of grace to release us from that bondage. Propitiation contemplates our liability to the wrath of God and is the provision of grace whereby we may be freed from that wrath.”6

Justification:

John R. W. Stott has it right when he explains, “Justification will take us into the court of law. For justification is the opposite of condemnation (e.g. Rom 5:18; 8:34) and both are verdicts of a judge who pronounces the accused either guilty or not guilty… Forgiveness remits our debts and cancels our liability to punishment; justification bestows on us a righteous standing before God.”7

Other New Testament Scriptures examined

Romans 3:21-26 is one of the key passages addressing the atonement issues. In the excellent book Pierced for Our Transgressions, the authors offer this interpretation which is faithful to the context and direction Paul has taken his readers,

All people are sinners, whether Jew or Gentile, but all may be justified through faith in Jesus. For God, who in the past had left his people’s sin unpunished, has now demonstrated his justice by punishing their sin in Christ. He was set forth as…a propitiation, (v. 25) turning aside God’s wrath by suffering it himself in the place of his people.8

In the flow of Paul’s argument he has used most of the first three chapters of Romans to demonstrate the condemnation that mankind is under because of sin. Perhaps the key verse has been 1:18 wherein we find that God’s wrath is poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. As Paul brings this section of his great epistle to a close he shows the hopeless condition of sinful humanity by telling us that even the Law of God was unable to purify us from sin, for the Law was only able to reveal sin and thereby condemn us and hold us accountable before a holy God (3:19-20). It would take something even greater than the Law to satisfy the wrath of God against sin and redeem us from its power. It would take something that could allow God to both justify unworthy sinners and at the same time maintain the justice and holiness of God (v. 26). Only the sacrifice of the Son of God could do both. Christ died in our stead, taking upon Himself the full wrath of God that we deserved. God’s sentence against sin was fully carried out on Christ so that we might be redeemed. In verses 24-25b we read, “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith…” This is the doctrine of penal substitution.

Thomas Schreiner argues that Galatians 3:10-14 plows much the same ground. In verse ten Paul writes, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse.” “How is such a curse removed?” Schreiner asks. “Not by Christ’s good example. Not merely by Christ defeating demonic powers. Not merely by God healing our damaged souls. Galatians 3:13 answers the question posed: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’ The curse we deserved was borne by Christ.’”9

Galatians 1:4 reads, “Who speaking of Christ gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age…” Christ voluntarily died for our sins in order to rescue us. Nothing but the great sacrifice could set us free.

In Hebrews 2:17 we find this affirmation of PSA, “He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Christ’s high priestly ministry directly targets the need for our sins to be propitiated. Under the Old Testament system the Jewish high priest would sacrifice animals to atone for the sins of people and temporarily appease the wrath of God against those sins. But final removal of those sins, as well as ours, would await the perfect sacrifice at the cross. The difference was not so much in the methodology used as it was in the sacrifice itself. The weakness in the Mosaic system was that the animals sacrificed were not capable of taking away sin (Heb 10:1-4). A final, once for all, holy sacrifice was needed to pay for our sins.

The apostle John, while not dealing as intently or directly with the doctrine of substitution, is not hesitant to speak of propitiation. In 1 John 2:2 he writes, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world.” Again, in chapter 4 verse 10 we read, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Other passages of note include: Titus 2:14, “Who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, jealous for good deeds.” Ephesians 2:13 says this, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” And few texts are clearer on the subject than Isaiah 53:4-6, “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried…. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”

While there is helpful truth to be found in some of the other atonement theories, especially Christus Victor and moral example, the central theme of redemptive theology as found in Scripture is that salvation could be made possible only through a perfect sacrifice that could not only redeem us from sin and declare us justified (righteous) but could also satisfy God’s holy wrath against sin. While many substitutes have been suggested, such as our own merit by keeping the Law or through the death of animals under the prescribed Old Testament sacrificial system, none of these would do. Paul, who confessed to trying these other means, gloried in the fact that because of Christ his righteousness was not “of my own, derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil 3:9).

Notes

1 “Twas I That Shed the Sacred Blood,” as cited in John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006) p. 63.

2 J. I. Packer, Knowing God p. 141.

3 Thomas Schreiner in The Nature of the Atonement, Four View, edited by James Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006) p. 88.

4 Dave Clotfelter, Sinners in the Hands of a Good God, Reconciling Divine Judgment and Mercy (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004) p. 196.

5 John R. W. Stott, p. 173.

6 James White, The God Who Justifies (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2001) p. 195.

7 John R. W. Stott, pp. 179-180.

8 Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, Andrew Sach, Pierced for Our Transgressions, Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007) p. 80.

9 Thomas Schreiner p. 89.

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Don P's picture

Gilley states, "At the Cross Christ took upon Himself the righteous wrath of God that sinners deserve in order that He might appease the anger of God against sin and sinners."

This is a common statement by many - that Jesus bore God's wrath upon the cross. My dear professor, Wayne Grudem, also makes this same argument in Systematic Theology. He stated that God poured out his wrath upon Jesus in wave upon wave.

With humility I ask, where do the scriptures state that God poured out his wrath on Jesus? There does not appear to be any scriptural support for this idea. It seems to be pure eisegesis. Neither Gilley nor Grudem cite any scripture to back up this claim.

The Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The penalty for sin is death. It is true that fallen humans are under the wrath of God (Romans 2:5). It is also true that God paid the penalty for sin by offering his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). It is also true that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross appeased God's wrath and turned it away from those who are in Christ (John 3:16). But this is not the same thing as saying that God poured out his wrath on Jesus when he died on the cross for sinners. I cannot find a verse in Scripture that even hints at the idea that God poured out his wrath on Jesus when he died on the cross. The penalty for sin was paid by God when Jesus, the righteous one, died on our behalf; not when God allegedly poured out his wrath upon Jesus.

So while I believe in the substitutionary penal nature of the atonement of Jesus on the cross, I reject the idea that God poured out his wrath on Jesus as unbiblical and eisegetical. Jesus stated that his Father would not leave him alone at the crucifixion. Why? Because Jesus always did what pleases him (John 8:28-29, John 16:32). Jesus is and always will be the object of God's love. At no point in Scripture does the Bible state anywhere that Jesus will be the object of God's wrath. Instead, the Bible teaches that Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:19).

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a fragrant offering to God. It pleased God. God did not despise or disdain the suffering of the afflicted one; he did not hide his face from him but listened to his cry for help (Psalm 22:24). The Scriptures indicated that God loved the Son, was always with the Son, was pleased with the Son, and did not despise the Son when the Son obeyed the Father and died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sins.

So while there is much that I can agree with in Gilley's articles, I cannot agree with the idea that God poured out his wrath upon Jesus. I can find no scriptural warrant for this concept.

Don P's picture

Gilley discusses propitiation as follows:

Propitiation

J. I Packer writes, “It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin, and canceling guilt.”2 Through propitiation the divine wrath is averted from us and placed on Christ. I like the way Thomas Schreiner frames the issue: “Modern people tend to ask, ‘How can God send anyone to hell?’ Paul asks a completely different question because he thinks theocentrically and not anthropocentrically. He asks how can God refrain from punishing people immediately and fully.”3

Gilley quotes J. I. Packer. I don't know what Packer's view of propitiation is, but Packer's quote is something that I can readily support. "It is a sacrifice that averts wrath through expiating sin, canceling guilt." Notice that Packer did not state that the wrath that is averted from us is placed on Christ. So without more context, I do not know if Packer supports Gilley's claim that God's wrath has been averted from us to Christ.

It is so easy to read into other people's writings our own ideas. Perhaps Packer agrees with Gilley, but the quote used does not support Gilley's claim. It only affirms that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus appeases the wrath of God for those who are in Christ because their sins have been expiated.

Having read all kinds of theories and interpretations of Scripture, how often do we read into Scripture what is not there? Kenneth Kantzer drove that point home for us at TEDS. He would ask us to explain a Bible verse, and then proceed to demonstrate how we imported our own ideas (scriptural or otherwise) onto the text.

I fear that this is what is happening in these articles. For example, someone find me the verse that states that Jesus paid the penalty for sin. It shouldn't be all that hard to find, after all, we all agree that the Bible teaches that Jesus paid the penalty for sin. There is just one problem, the Bible never uses language like this to describe what Jesus "did" on the cross. Instead it used the language of sacrifice, fragrant offering, Lamb of God slain, atoning sacrifice, etc. The biblical language forces us to think about the crucifixion in terms that are vastly different from "Jesus paid the penalty for sin" and leads to different conclusions about the extent of the atonement.

JG's picture

It is strongly implied in John 3:36, especially in conjunction with verses like I Peter 2:24. Those who don't believe receive the wrath of God which their sin deserves. Christ became sin. Verses like Galatians 3:13, which tells us that Christ was cursed for us, indicate that the full weight and impact of our sin was born by Christ.

I do not know of any sound Biblical way to view the wrath of God other than as a consequence of sin. It is part of the price that unrepentant sinners pay for their sin. In fact, someone could perhaps argue that it is the totality of the price that they pay, and that everything else (death, hell, temporal consequences) flows from that.

If Christ paid the price in full, if He took our sin upon Himself, then He took upon Himself God's wrath in our behalf.

Perhaps this is only a semantical difference, but I don't think so. I do not want to in any way diminish the seriousness of our sin or the magnitude of God's grace. I believe that denying the wrath of God on our Saviour runs the risk of doing exactly that. That is not to impugn anyone's motives, but to point out that this is a practical question, not just a theoretical one.

Charlie's picture

Don P., you raise an interesting objection to what I will call "traditional PSA." If I may summarize you, you believe that 1) God has or had wrath toward sinners, 2) Jesus' atonement eliminates that wrath toward us, 3) Jesus does not actually take or receive God's wrath, but simply appeases it, 4) Jesus' atonement is consistent with the biblical motifs of sacrifice and offering, and 5) Since God is always pleased with Jesus, he cannot be wrathful toward him. I will treat 1-4 as a unit and 5 separately.

Regarding 1-4, I think it appropriate to examine sacrifice in Scripture, especially covenantal and atonement sacrifice. In Gen. 3:21, we read "And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them." On the day that Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced dreadful consequences, but they did not die. The first death recorded in the Bible is not a human but an animal, slain by God, slain instead of Adam and Eve, slain to provide a covering (the meaning of the word atonement) for Adam and Eve's nakedness. The themes of nakedness/clothing and sacrifice are intertwined throughout Scripture.

In Gen. 15, Abraham, at God's command, brings animals to God, slaughters them, and sets their carcasses in halves with an aisle between. In Ancient Near Eastern culture, usually both parties would walk through the carcasses, symbolizing what would happen to them if they broke the covenant. In this case, only God, not Abraham, walks through as the covenant is ratified. The meaning is that God will take full responsibility for the covenant, even bearing the penalty should Abraham not keep his end of it.

Leviticus 1 tells us that, when an Israelite makes a burnt offering (the foundational offering in the Mosaic system), he must take an "unblemished male." Then, "He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." The double "for him" is noteworthy. Most exegetes, including Jewish ones, affirm that in placing his hands on the beast, the Israelite transfers his sin, and the deserved wrath and punishment, onto the unblemished animal, which makes atonement both concerning him and in his stead.

Thus, we should read Isaiah 53 and New Testament references of Jesus' sacrifice and atonement as being in the same trajectory as the Mosaic sacrificial system. What we would find via a longer study is that throughout the Old Testament sin, wrath, and punishment go together. God is never non-wrathful at sin. God does not fail to punish, in his own way and time, the objects of his wrath. This is demanded by his attributes and confirmed both by explicit references and narrative accounts. So, if we receive the ubiquitous Christian teaching that at the cross, the sins of the world or at least of the elect were really transferred onto Christ, and since we of course receive the teaching that Christ was punished for sins, then there is no escaping the conclusion that wrath, which is inextricably bound up in sin and punishment, was also transferred to Christ. God's wrath does not simply evaporate; it is redirected. It cannot be canceled out by an opposing good deed, which is the necessary assumption of the view that Christ's obedient work appeases God's wrath without taking it. (If you are asserting that God does punish Jesus for sin, but without some sort of "feeling" of wrath, I think you've failed to consider God's impassibility.)

Now, regarding proposition 5, I think you actually made a number of strong points. However, they do not detract from the teaching that Christ absorbed God's wrath for humanity. Rather, they add to the complexity of the atonement, and demonstrate the complexity of God's stance toward mankind in general. First, God hates the wicked (Ps. 11:5); he laughs at their impending doom (Ps. 37:13). Yet, Jesus came for sinners, not for the righteous. It was out of love for the world (John 3:16), the sick, twisted, God-rejecting κοσμος, that Christ was sent.

So yes, God always loved Jesus. God was with him. I think Psalm 22 is the best passage of Scripture for understanding the Father and Son at the cross. The first verse is Jesus' cry on the cross, "Why have you forsaken me?" Jesus really was forsaken by the Father on the cross, at least if we put weight on his own words. Yet, Jesus still trust in him, as the petitions of Psalm 22 and the whisper, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" show. In the middle of v. 21, the Psalm shifts. Yahweh has answered! He has rescued! How was this fulfilled in Jesus? Not on the cross, but in the resurrection (cf. Ps. 16:10).

In conclusion, I believe that a thorough examination and meditation upon the OT sacrificial system supports traditional PSA, and that God's wrath on Jesus as a propitiatory sacrifice does not compete with other descriptions of Trinitarian relations.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Don P's picture

Thank you, JG, for responding.

Certainly those who don't believe in Jesus remain under the wrath of God (John 3:36). And yes, Christ did become sin (sin offering) for us. He is the Lamb of God slain from before the foundation of the world. He is the sin offering! He bore our sins in his body echoing Isaiah 53:5. It is also true that he became a "curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). Now the curse of the law is death. And no one is disputing that Jesus died for us and on our behalf for sin. So I am in complete agreement with you so far.

You stated, "I do not know of any sound Biblical way to view the wrath of God other than as a consequence of sin." Truly the wages of sin is death. The consequences for sin is death. And according to the Scriptures, the person who rejects the Son remains under the wrath of God (John 3:36). Here the concept seems to be that the one who rejects the Son remains under wrath. The Apostle Paul adds that all of us at one time were by nature objects of wrath (Eph. 2:3).

What is the solution? Paul states, "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression - it is by grace you have been saved" (Eph. 2:4, NIV). The solution does not mention the concept or idea that Jesus bore the wrath of God on the cross. There is no hint of this. There is a strong statement, however, to the fact that God has "great love" for us and that God is rich in mercy. The emphasis seems to be the love of God, just as in John 3:16.

The consequences for sin is death. As a result, sinners are under the wrath of God. Contrast this fact with Jesus:

Jesus did not sin.
Jesus always does what pleases the Father.
Jesus is not under God's wrath.
And since dying on the cross is God's will for Jesus, even in his death he is pleasing his Father.
Jesus was willing to lay down his life for sinners.
He died for sinners.
He died as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
He died freely and willingly.
He died obediently.
And in this process, God did not despise the suffering of the afflicted one (Psalm 22:24).
God did not hide his face from him!

The scriptural language simply does not support the idea that God poured out his wrath on Jesus when Jesus died on the cross.

You stated, "If Christ paid the price in full, if He took our sin upon Himself, then He took upon Himself God's wrath in our behalf." But the scriptures don't state this; they don't even seem to imply this. The scriptures do seem to state the following: Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, died for us as a sin offering. That sin offering was pleasing to God and turned his wrath away from those who are in Christ.

I, too, take the substitutionary atonement seriously. But I don't want to state more than what the Scriptures state about this atonement. And the Scriptures do not indicate that God poured out his wrath on Jesus.

I think it is interesting that the Bible teaches that "we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:4). But the Bible didn't say that he was stricken by God. The Bible says the exact opposite - that Jesus and the Father are one, in perfect union, God reconciling the world to himself in Christ.

Do you see the parallel? We say that God poured out his wrath on Jesus - that he was stricken by God. But the Bible doesn't state this. Jesus is the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased.

Don P's picture

Hi Charlie,

Thanks for responding. You summarized my comments as such:

Don P., you raise an interesting objection to what I will call "traditional PSA." If I may summarize you, you believe that 1) God has or had wrath toward sinners, 2) Jesus' atonement eliminates that wrath toward us, 3) Jesus does not actually take or receive God's wrath, but simply appeases it, 4) Jesus' atonement is consistent with the biblical motifs of sacrifice and offering, and 5) Since God is always pleased with Jesus, he cannot be wrathful toward him. I will treat 1-4 as a unit and 5 separately.

This is an accurate summary of my thoughts.

With regard to your analysis of Genesis 3:21, Genesis 15, and Leviticus 1, I would suggest that the punishment for sin was and is death, not wrath. The animals were sacrificed as a substitute, but the text does not indicate that wrath was poured out on the animals. The sinless, blameless, perfect animal sacrificed as a sin offering resulted in atonement for the sinful human. The human sinner should have died, but an animal died in his place. Where does the text indicate that wrath was poured out on the animal?

The transfer of sin to the animal resulted in the death of the animal and the continued life of the human. Again, the punishment for sin seems to be death, not wrath. Looking at Isaiah 53, as you suggested, demonstrates only that "we" thought Jesus was stricken by God. But the text does not say that he was stricken by God. In fact, Jesus would freely lay down his life for us in perfect obedience to the Father's will. He would please God in everything he did and he would never be alone. God was with Christ and never forsook Christ.

You stated that the cry of Jesus on the cross is proof that God forsook Jesus, but that may not be the case. Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 on the cross. It directed the Jewish people to reflect on Psalm 22. Before their very eyes, this Psalm was fulfilled. When Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he was in essence telling his audience to turn in their Bibles to Psalm 22:1! A closer look at the Psalm reveals that David was not forsaken by God and that David knew that he was not forsaken by God. As applied to Jesus it is obvious that his crucifixion was foretold in this Psalm, that Jesus was not forsaken by God, and that God did not consider Jesus to be stricken by him but was in fact attentive to his Son's cry for help. Far from being the recipient of God's wrath, Jesus was instead the recipient of his Father's love and attention. Jesus also quoted from the last verse of this Psalm when he cried, "It is finished!" So it seems that Jesus preached a sermon from the cross with his body being the substance of the sermon.

You stated that "God is never non-wrathful at sin. God does not fail to punish, in his own way and time, the objects of his wrath." This statement appears to be only partly correct. God does not pour out his wrath on sin. He pours out his wrath on sinners. The objects of his wrath is not sin or sins. It is sinners! Jesus was not a sinner even though he bore our sins in his body. If the objects of God's wrath are sinners, then Jesus could not be an object of God's wrath. He was the sin offering. He was the Lamb of God that died in our place. But he was not the object of God's wrath. Only sinners can be the object of God's wrath, and Jesus was not a sinner.

You stated,

This is demanded by his attributes and confirmed both by explicit references and narrative accounts. So, if we receive the ubiquitous Christian teaching that at the cross, the sins of the world or at least of the elect were really transferred onto Christ, and since we of course receive the teaching that Christ was punished for sins, then there is no escaping the conclusion that wrath, which is inextricably bound up in sin and punishment, was also transferred to Christ. God's wrath does not simply evaporate; it is redirected. It cannot be canceled out by an opposing good deed, which is the necessary assumption of the view that Christ's obedient work appeases God's wrath without taking it. (If you are asserting that God does punish Jesus for sin, but without some sort of "feeling" of wrath, I think you've failed to consider God's impassibility.)

God is holy and just. God is also loving, gracious, and merciful. But I fail to see how his attributes demand that he pour out his wrath on the one who always pleases him. The very one who is obedient, even to death, is now the alleged recipient of God's wrath? How so? How does this square with his attributes? Perhaps they do, but this is my main point. The scriptures do not state anywhere that Jesus bore God's wrath. This is mere conjecture on our parts as we claim to understand God's attributes. But God so transcends our ability to understand him fully that I think it is extremely dangerous to state that God poured out his wrath on Jesus when no scripture verse states this or implies this.

Personally, I don't believe that God's wrath is redirected as you claim. Sinners are the objects of God's wrath. Sinners will always be the objects of God's wrath. But when a person becomes a saint and is "in Christ," he is no longer a sinner, and, therefore, an object of God's wrath. He has left the realm of sin and darkness and has entered into the realm of grace and light. Instead of being a sinner, he is now a saint! Why? Precisely because he is in Christ. Christ is his covering. Now if Christ is the object of God's wrath, then all of those who are in Christ are also objects of God's wrath. But this is not the case.

I think that we have had it pounded into our heads for years that Jesus bore the wrath of God when he died on the cross. But as I read my Bible, I just can't find a clear reference to this concept. The concept that God poured out his wrath on Jesus does not appear to be in the Bible. Contrast this to the Trinitarian concepts found in the Bible: The Father is God. The Word is God. The Holy Spirit is God. There is only one God. Because there are specific verses that address each of these claims, we believe in one God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since this is clear and since the Son always pleases the Father and states that his Father will not leave him alone, I am not ready to embrace a concept that appears to have no scriptural support.

Thank you again for responding. I think the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement is causing us to read into scripture concepts that aren't there, or at least, are not apparent.

Greg Long's picture

Don, so you're saying Is. 53 is simply saying that we considered him stricken by God, but He wasn't actually? That just doesn't make any sense to me. And I don't believe you responded as Charlie pointed out Jesus' cry on the cross that the Father had forsaken Him.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Don P's picture

Hi Greg,

Yes. We considered Jesus stricken by God, especially the Jewish religious leaders at the time of the crucifixion. But the Scriptures seem to be clear that Jesus was not stricken by God. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ! Jesus freely laid down his life for sinners. His death was a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Jesus would not be left alone at the crucifixion (John 8:27-30, 16:31-32). Please show me from the scriptures where God considered Jesus to be stricken by God himself. I have given you references from John where Jesus states that he will not be alone because his Father will be with him.

I did respond to Charles with regard to Psalm 22. Please take a closer look.

Nevertheless, Jesus quoted the first verse of the Psalm 22 to call attention to it. This is the only way a Jewish person could direct someone to a specific psalm. You had to cite the first verse, which Jesus did. Why? Because Psalm 22 is all about Jesus and his death. And what do we learn in this Psalm? That Jesus was not forsaken or stricken by God. Read Psalm 22:24!

The whole Psalm encapsulates the crucifixion experience. In fact, Jesus quotes the last verse of the Psalm as well when he cried, "It is finished."

Don P's picture

By the way, Greg, stricken in the context of Isaiah 53 has to do with Jesus being despised. We esteemed him not. He was smitten by God and afflicted.

I think the Jewish religious leaders despised Jesus. I think that they did not esteem him. I think that they mocked him and hurled insults at him. I think that they thought that Jesus was stricken by God and smitten by him. I think they viewed their afflictions upon Jesus to be God's afflictions on Jesus.

They would have been wrong.

And yet it was Yahweh's will to crush him and cause him to suffer. And it was Yahweh's will to make his life a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10). That is, it was God's will that the Son would be an atoning sacrifice and endure the suffering of death and shame that goes with all that that means. So Jesus obeys his Father's will and lays down his life for sinners, knowing that he is in the Father's will and that his Father is with him (John 8:27-30, 16:31-32). God did not despise or disdain the suffering of the afflicted one; he did not hide his face from him but listened to his cry for help (Psalm 22:24).

So stricken has to do with despising. We may have despised Jesus, but the Father never did.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Don,

I don't think pouring out wrath necessarily equates to broken unity. Else, how do you reconcile Matthew 27:46?

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Charlie's picture

Don, you said,

Quote:
the punishment for sin was and is death, not wrath.
Well, then, whence comes wrath? It seems fruitless to me to separate the two. If you believe in impassibility, which is the only orthodox (Catholic, Eastern, or Protestant) position on God's nature, then God's "wrath" is not some sort of emotion in God, but his holy disposition that punishes sin. Thus, wherever there is sin and punishment, there is, by necessity, wrath. God has no wrathless punishment. (There is chastisement, but that is a relational term, whereas punishment is a legal term. Jesus' atonement is legal and therefore falls under the category of punishment, not chastisement.)

You are correct that God pours out his wrath on sinners, not sin itself, which has no ontological existence. However, that's precisely the point. Atonement occurs when one entity is treated in a way that it does not deserve in the place of another entity that does deserve that treatment. Since you have already conceded that God is wrathful toward sinners, and we certainly agree that God treated Jesus as a sinner on the cross, we must conclude that God was wrathful toward Jesus on the cross. (Technically, due to impassibility, we would say that God treated Jesus in a way analogous to how we treat things toward which we are wrathful.)

Finally, I think you have again failed to appreciate the complexity of God's stance toward individuals. The fact that Jesus always pleased the Father and that the Son is beloved by the Father does not argue against Jesus being the object of God's wrath. In fact, it allows it. The most distinctive feature of a sacrifice is its blamelessness, its having no cause to be killed. The complexity of God's stance toward Jesus in the cross and resurrection is similar to the complexity of God's stance toward humans in general. God hates sinners. Yet, God, in love, sent Jesus to die for them. Both are true. One does not counteract the other.

The idea that God's posture must be, ultimately, one or the other has a ghastly track record in church history. It fueled the belief in eternal election within British hyper-calvinism, a movement doomed to collapse under the weight of its own premises. It later came back in various forms of liberalism and especially in Barth, explaining the universalist trend in his thought. Post-Barthian British theology has traces of this, which shows up in authors like Steve Chalke and perhaps even N. T. Wright.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Charlie's picture

The last two words of the first paragraph should be "not chastisement." (If a mod wants to fix that...)

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

JG's picture

Don P wrote:
We considered Jesus stricken by God, especially the Jewish religious leaders at the time of the crucifixion. But the Scriptures seem to be clear that Jesus was not stricken by God.

...

Please show me from the scriptures where God considered Jesus to be stricken by God himself.

Certainly, He wasn't just "considered" to be stricken, He was stricken: "for the transgression of my people was he stricken" (verse 8).

That this was the work of God is clear from verse 10: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him."

If you want to try to draw some kind of distinction between "stricken" by God and "bruised" by God, you are welcome to it, but I see no reason to see any significance in the different term.

Don P's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Don,

I don't think pouring out wrath necessarily equates to broken unity. Else, how do you reconcile Matthew 27:46?

Hi Chip,

I addressed this already in my previous comments. When Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he was quoting the first line of David's psalm. This is how a person directed others to a specific psalm. So Jesus was directing those who were observing the crucifixion to recall Psalm 22. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Psalm. He was not stating that he himself was forsaken by God.

Don P's picture

Charlie wrote:
Since you have already conceded that God is wrathful toward sinners, and we certainly agree that God treated Jesus as a sinner on the cross, we must conclude that God was wrathful toward Jesus on the cross.

Hi Charles,

I don't think that I do believe that God treated Jesus as a sinner on the cross, therefore, I do not conclude that God was wrathful toward Jesus on the cross.

Jesus was sinless.

Jesus is the Lamb of God.

Jesus, according to the scriptures, is the righteous one.

Jesus is the atoning sacrifice.

Jesus died for sinners. He himself was not a sinner.

Jesus bore the punishment for sin which is death. But death could not keep him.

The punishment for sin is death. Jesus died in our place, the righteous one, so that in Christ we could have his righteousness.

I do understand the complexity of the subject (that is not to say that I fully understand God or how he works). What I do not understand is why we argue for theories and concepts that don't seem to have any specific references in scripture. I am willing to change my mind on whether or not God poured out his wrath on Jesus if someone can direct me to a passage in scripture that teaches this. I can't find this passage and I don't want to attribute to God what is not there.

The scriptures appear to teach that God pours out his wrath on sinners and on those who reject Jesus. It is not at all apparent that the scriptures teach that God poured out his wrath on Jesus, his only begotten Son. Jesus was not treated by God as a sinner, he was treated by God as an atoning sacrifice - a fragrant offering that was pleasing to God.

Don P's picture

JG wrote:
Don P wrote:
We considered Jesus stricken by God, especially the Jewish religious leaders at the time of the crucifixion. But the Scriptures seem to be clear that Jesus was not stricken by God.

...

Please show me from the scriptures where God considered Jesus to be stricken by God himself.

Certainly, He wasn't just "considered" to be stricken, He was stricken: "for the transgression of my people was he stricken" (verse 8).

That this was the work of God is clear from verse 10: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him."

If you want to try to draw some kind of distinction between "stricken" by God and "bruised" by God, you are welcome to it, but I see no reason to see any significance in the different term.

Hi JG,

I think that context governs the meaning of "stricken" in Isaiah 53. In verse 4, "we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted." The context seems to be governed by the previous verse, which states that "He is despised and rejected by men." The driving concept is that "we did not esteem him."

Verse 5 begins with "but." There is a contrast. Jesus did die for our transgression. "He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed." However wrongly we thought about Jesus' death, his death was still necessary for our healing. Yes, he was oppressed and afflicted by men, but he did not open his mouth (v. 7). Yes, he was taken from prison and from judgment, and yes he was cut off from the land of the living. But this was done because of our transgressions, not because he was afflicted by God or stricken by God or despised by God.

Isaiah appears to be contrasting our view of Jesus' death (we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God) with that of why Jesus died (for our transgressions). So verse 10 explains that it was the Father's will that Jesus die, but not because he was stricken by God, but to be an offering for sin. And when this offering for sin is completed, God will "prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand."

Isaiah 53 seems to teach that Jesus was not stricken by God, but rather died for our transgressions according to the Father's will. Psalm 22:24 indicates that God did not view the affliction of Jesus in the same way that the Jewish religious leaders did. God did not despise or disdain the suffering of the afflicted one. God did not hide his face from him. Clearly, the religious leaders thought that Jesus was despised by God (stricken and smitten), but God did not think that. And neither did Jesus! He knew that his Father would be with him (John 8:28-30). Notice the wording, "When you lift up the Son of Man." The Jews would urge the Romans to crucify Jesus. They considered him stricken by God. But when Jesus would be lifted up, he made it crystal clear that his Father would not leave him alone! Jesus repeats this claim in John 16:32 and then reinforces the unity that exists between himself and his Father in John 17.

Based on scripture, I find it highly unlikely that Jesus was the recipient of God's wrath. The unity that exists between the Father and the Son seems to preclude this. I am open to changing my mind about this if you can show me a passage in scripture that teaches this. Instead of being the recipient of God's wrath, Jesus appears to be the recipient of God's continuing love on the cross. He also cried out, "Into your hands I commit my spirit."

An Old Testament example of this is that of Abraham and Isaac. There is no hint of Abraham feeling wrath toward the potential sacrifice of Isaac. And Isaac's attitude and response to Abraham appears to be one of faith and trust. The love between Abraham and Isaac is evident from the text. So is the love between the Father and Jesus.

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