This question just popped into my mind a few days ago. It is standard Biblical Christianity to say that what we deserve for our sins is eternal separation from God; but that Jesus paid that price for us so we can be saved. How then was Jesus able to pay that price without suffering eternally?
@Narphi My short answer is that I do not think Jesus atoned for our sins by the amount He suffered - so we deserved to be punished for 5 quadrillion years and He bore 5 quadrillion years of pain. I do not think that is the point. I personally believe Jesus was a spotless sacrifice who did not deserve to die - He was worthy of glory and honor and yet He died in our place. Like the splotless lambs offered in the Old Testament, I believe it was Jesus’ righteousness that made Him able to suffer the penalty of sin - death - in our place. I do not think He had to suffer eternal torment to save us from it… But that is my personal view. People also disagree about what ‘Hell’ means (see linked thread at bottom) and I do not hold to eternal torment.
Let’s take a look at a few theories of the atonement. When Jesus died He atoned for our sins, but there is some disagreement about what ‘atonement’ means.
- Ransom theory - Jesus died as a ransom to either the devil or to God
- Christus Victor - Jesus died to defeat the powers of evil - sin, death and the devil - setting us free to live in His Kingdom
- Satisfaction theory - Christ died to satisfy God’s justice
- Penal substitution - Christ was punished in our place - He took our punishment upon the cross - He did not just pay a debt of justice but literally suffered in our place
Jesus’ death is described as a ‘ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). Over the cross were the words ‘King of the Jews’ and Colossians 2:15 is clear that Jesus triumphed over the powers and authorities on the cross - a victorious King. It is also clear that Jesus died as a propitiation for our sins (I John 2:2), the righteous for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18) - that looks like substitution. So each of these theories as some Biblical basis.
Here are 2 ways I personally try to describe what Christ did on the cross using Biblical language. I am still wrestling with this idea.
Atonement is chiefly about one life for another - the sacrifice was never required to suffer emotional or physical torment in proportion to the offense committed. However, the lamb was required to be spotless. Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for all people not because of the amount He suffered, but because He was a perfect sacrifice undeserving of death - the perfect lamb of God foreshadowed by the old covenant sacrifices. Christ saved us not by absorbing the Father’s wrath, but by dying in our place to set us free from the law’s condemnation so that through Him we can die to ourselves and live unto God.
Jesus is the victorious king who reconciled us to God by His blood and in whom we become Spirit filled children of the Kingdom of Light, free from the law’s condemnation and sin’s power. The law of sin and death is replaced by the Spirit’s laws of life in Christ Jesus.
Some Resources on Penal Substitution
Differing Views on Hell
The three views of how God handles sin ultimately are:
- Eternal torment - some form of eternal suffering or separation from God
- Conditionalism - those who reject God are judged and then cease to exist
- Universalism - sin is real, but all people will eventually be brought to repentance
How is it just for God to have Jesus die in our place
I’m quite willing to believe there are multiple explanations that might each be true.
Here is another blog post I discovered today on the atonement, that seems credible to me (as another reason why, not necessary as the one and only one reason why).
@Narphi Sure thing! From the article I can resonate with the ideas that God set His ‘hesed’ love on us and that He removed our shame. However, the idea of God having to save face is a bit of a stretch for me - I would have to think on that one more. We certainly see places in the Bible where the Biblical authors call on God to defend His name by doing what is just - by appealing to what the wicked will say of Him if He does not act. And that is an honor / shame type of appeal. But I am not sure if that same dynamic would apply to the atonement - if that particular type of appeal spoke to God’s true nature or was simply a cultural method of supplication.
What are your thoughts? I’d be curious what @andrew.bulin thinks as well.
Thanks for the post, @Narphi! I appreciate the material from the ShameHonor group, and have used their materials in my own research, so I’m somewhat familiar. Part of the difficulty with trying to understand this for me is how different the shame based cultures and their world views differ from my own. I would agree with @SeanO that the changelessness, impassibility, and infinite nature of God means we can do nothing to depreciate Him. However, what He had established for His glory—relationship with hummankind and all of creation—has fallen into disrepair. The question is how does that affect God’s glory and does it have cause for the need of restoration through Christ?
One of the more challenging statements from that post is this one:
So the problem that must get resolved is the erosion of God’s honor. Scripture is clear that God must get glory. The absence of God’s glory is the biggest problem in the universe.
As representatives of God, Christians should bring Him glory with our obedience, but we also dishonor Him with our sin. This is where we need the grace of Christ’s sacrifice to cover. If God’s plan and His will are perfect, then He ensures all things will come to fruition. If that is the case, what is God personally losing? ShameHonor also has a worksheet credited to The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures that mentions God being “infinitely glorious, deserving reverence.” That would sound contrary to the “erosion of God’s honor.” The understanding I have is not that God is directly damaged, but what He has established was damaged. Because He is sovereign, He deserves the Glory of restoration, and will receive the Glory of restoration. The “losing of face” is less of direct, harmful damage to God and more of an owned offense that is worn by the offender: humankind. This offense produces shame on humankind which requires the debt to be repaid. Jesus paid that debt, and a shame based culture may focus more on the restoration of relationship, the lifting of shame, and the restoration of the owed glory and honor to God, to whom it is due.
I hope that helps a little.
Hey @SeanO, This topic is helping me a lot. I’m still reading the articles you referenced and everyone’s thoughts, but on the one called: “Reasonable Faith” what did you think about the quote from NT Wright in the passage below? (I’m not picking on him, but just like with our “Irresistable” discussion, I want to figure out if there is a real issue with the atonement side of the whole discussion.
(forgot to add quotes)
“DR. CRAIG: That’s absolutely right. And here I want to alert our listeners to the way in which traditional Reformation atonement theories are caricatured and misrepresented. Contemporary authors who are unsympathetic with penal substitution will represent it as the view that there is an angry, bloodthirsty God who is bent on punishing sinners but that somehow Jesus of Nazareth gets in the way and bears the wrath of this angry God thereby changing his attitude from one of anger and wrath to one of love and grace. And that is a gross caricature not only of New Testament teaching but of traditional atonement theories. N. T. Wright, for example, characterizes these traditional atonement theories as saying that God so hated the world that he killed his only son. That is obviously not what Anselm and the Reformers were saying. From start to finish these theories recognize that the atonement is motivated by God’s love. It is out of God’s overwhelming love and grace expressed toward sinners that he gives in the person of Christ this substitutionary atonement on our behalf thereby satisfying the demands of his own justice. It’s not that Christ’s atonement somehow switches God’s attitude from one of anger and wrath to one of love and compassion. From start to finish the atonement is motivated by God’s love and compassion, and he himself bears the punishment for sin that his own justice had demanded thereby freeing us. So it is really important to understand these theories accurately lest we be misled by the misrepresentations of its critics.”
Do you think comtemporary preachers are actually trying to sort of “water down” the thought of real repentance and penal susbstitution? And do you happen to know where this quote of NT Wright is taken from?
Heys Narphi, I think this is a great question, and I am also receiving so much as I explore the different perspectives that the rest has shared over here.
It is actually possible but we might never be able to comprehend the full extent of it. So just bear with me while I setup the boundaries in which I would like to share.
#1 - Sin Requires Payment In Blood as Punishment
Firstly, Leviticus 4 clearly explains that as payment for sins, a sacrifice must be made. 2 common themes that are seen through will be “death” and “blood”.
This is further supported by the following scriptures:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)
Blood is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
This is also why under the old covenant of law, there is a need to “sprinkle blood towards the sacred chest” or “smear blood on the corners of the incense altar”.
The animal sacrifices are all temporal and needs to be repeated, are but a shadow of the actual sacrifice - Christ on the cross.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)
To just side track a little, this doesn’t mean that God is an angry God, but that is just how the universe that is created works - sin must be punished with death.
#2 - Jesus Took Our Punishment of Sins
At the cross, a divine exchange took place, where Jesus who knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21); did no sin (1 Peter 2:22); and (1 John 3:5), took our place by absorbing all our sins (past, present, and future) so that God can punish them once and for all at calvary.
I think this video is quite good in depicting what happened at the cross from a spiritual perspective:
We, who are the ones who deserved to receive the punishment, instead, took Christ’s place and become children of God.
This way, God’s justice is satisfied (sin is punished), and yet God’s grace is also satisfied (we are saved).
#3 - Christ Was an Overpayment
This is where it gets really amazing.
I know it’s inaccurate to limit it this way, but humour me on this.
Let’s say A has “sinned” (did something wrong against B) and now owes B a debt (punishment), of $1 mil.
A will constantly be trying to avoid coming into contact with B, because A is unable to pay up the debt.
Then along comes C who has a heart large enough to say to B, “Hey, let me pay A’s debt on his / her behalf. Here’s $100 bil instead.”
By this action, not only did A’s debt disappeared, but now it will seem as though B “owes” A, because it was an overpayment.
C then goes to tell A that the debt is settled and there is no need to avoid B anymore.
With this, 2 scenarios will happen commonly:
- If A believes C, A will not only approach B with confidence, but maybe even get B to treat a meal (since it was an overpayment).**
- If A thinks that C is lying, A will still continue to avoid B, even though there is no longer a need to.
Regardless of whichever scenario it plays out, it doesn’t change the truth that the debt has been paid many times over.
And this is exactly what happened at the cross.
Jesus’ blood was an overpayment for the punishment of our sins.
The prove of it being an overpayment was that He rose from the dead, as a receipt to let us know that it has been fully paid, and more!
If He didn’t rise from the grave, we will always be wondering if whatever He paid was enough or not.
Since God is eternal, His blood is eternal as well, and His blood cleanses us forever, meaning there is eternal forgiveness.
Just my personal input on this matter, which I feel is coherent with the bible, and also God being both just and graceful at the same time.
Hope that helps shed some light onto this question about whether Jesus is able to pay for the punishment of our sins.
@tabby68 I’m glad you are having a chance to think through these issues - how exciting! The following articles should provide you with a deeper understanding of N. T. Wright’s view - Wright is trying to be more nuanced than many people are in expressing his view of the atonement, but he does indeed affirm a form of penal substitution.
Wright appears to be concerned chiefly with ‘paganizing’ the Gospel so that it becomes little different than pagan stories of the appeasement of the gods. And also with keeping it within its historical context rather than turning it into a set of abstract principles or doctrines. The Bible is a story and its truths are best understood within the story - I think that is his line of thought.
Personally I think the ‘cup’ that Jesus drank may not be the same thing reformation preachers talk about when they say the ‘wrath of God’. I’m not sure the two concepts are actually equivalent - this text about Jesus drinking the cup is in fact the only text that could directly imply Jesus suffered God’s wrath. Certainly Jesus saved us from God’s wrath (many texts talk about this), but I wrestle with whether He did so by suffering that wrath or by dying in our stead and I’m not sure those are the same thing? Deep stuff.
Regarding contemporary preachers, I don’t have the data to say…there are likely as many views as there are people.
Through his shed blood Jesus provided redemption for the world, which has roots in the Exodus where the Jewish people were “purchased” by God and delivered from bondage in Egypt. God did not choose Israel in order to confer most-favored-nation status upon one nation. Rather God choose Israel so that through Israel God could shine the light of his love to all the families of the earth. In this way Jesus became a curse so that “the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles” (Galatians 3:14 ESV).
Without the foundational story of Jesus found in the Gospels, a story rooted in the story of Israel, the death of Jesus too easily becomes a “paganized doctrine” where an innocent person dies to appease an angry deity. With these stories in view, Paul’s summaries of what happened when Jesus died become much clearer, namely that God, the God of Israel, the Creator God, was in Christ “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV). Through Jesus’ death the God of Israel demonstrated his faithfulness to the covenant to bless all the nations of the earth through the people of Abraham.
“Jesus, the innocent one, the one person who has done nothing wrong, the one innocent of the crimes of which Israel as a whole was guilty, has become identified with rebel Israel who represents God’s whole rebel world; with us who are rebels, unclean, unfaithful, unloving, unholy – so that he may take that sin as it were into himself and deal with it, and give us instead his holiness as a robe, his purity as a gift and a power.” N. T. Wright
“Now the judgment that had hung over Israel and Jerusalem, the judgment Jesus had spoken of so often, was to be meted out; and Jesus would deliver his people by taking its force upon himself. His own death would enable his people to escape.” “In the strange justice of God, which overrules the unjust “justice” of Rome and every human system, God’s mercy reaches out where human mercy could not, not only sharing, but in this case substituting for, the sinner’s fate.” N. T. Wright
“On the cross Jesus took on himself that separation from God which all other men know. He did not deserve it; he had done nothing to warrant being cut off from God; but as he identified himself totally with sinful humanity, the punishment which that sinful humanity deserved was laid fairly and squarely on his shoulders… That is why he shrank, in Gethsemane, from drinking the ‘cup’ offered to him. He knew it to be the cup of God’s wrath. On the cross, Jesus drank that cup to the dregs, so that his sinful people might not drink it. He drank it to the dregs. He finished it, finished the bitter cup both physically and spiritually… Here is the bill, and on it the word ‘finished’ – ‘paid in full.’ The debt is paid. The punishment has been taken. Salvation is accomplished.” N. T. Wright
One can clearly see an affirmation of the penal substitutionary atonement throughout the theology of N.T. Wright. Though Wright does not affirm this doctrine within the standard Reformed categories, the concept of Jesus the Righteous One dying in the place of the sinner and thus taking upon Himself the wrath of God is clearly espoused. Even though some of us may disagree with Wright’s “fresh” perspective on Paul or his view of Jesus’ messianic consciousness, this does not mean we should not affirm Wright where he should be affirmed. Personally, since I began writing this essay, I have a deeper appreciation for the penal substitutionary view of the atonement because of the way Wright espouses it within the historical events of the first century. Trevin Wax
I don’t believe we can legitimately refrain from talking about the wrath of God, it’s real and in the Old and New Testament. However, we tend to attribute to God our own understanding of wrath rather than remembering that God is infinitely holy. In His wrath He sacrificed of Himself so that we could have eternal life. That’s certainly not my kind of wrath, that is a holy wrath.
Is atonement a punishment to be met or a consequence to be handled? I’m not sure. What I do know is God can be trusted.
I love the topic of atonement, or as the New Testament writers put it, propitiation. I have no major issues with what has been said and probably no major points to add.
What I do want to add is a reminder of the limits of our understanding and ability to talk about these divine topics. I imagine us trying to understand the ways of God is much like me trying to explain to my 6yr old how a car engine works. With that said, He certainly gives us the ability to search out His ways and I thoroughly enjoy doing it.
I believe penal substitution does the best job explaining what took place on the cross. Of course there will always be people who stretch a concept too far and talk about things such as divine child abuse, I battled it in seminary. We are talking about eternal concepts within a mortal perspective. No analogy or metaphor we come up with is going to fully explain what took place.
@geoff I agree there is a certain amount of mystery involved in the ‘how’ of the atonement, but I am so glad that God has shown us the ‘why’ - because of His love and that we have been blessed to be able to experience the mystery all the angels and saints longed to see - Christ in us, the hope of glory!
Colossians 1:24-27 - Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
@Narphi Your question made me think of how significant death is. In the beginning, God said “do not eat of the tree for if you do you will surely die”. Adam and Eve could have lived forever with God in paradise had they not eaten. But they were now dead spiritually in their sin of disobedience and later died physically. God said "now that they know good and evil, they must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever…"Genesis 3:22.
I’m processing this as what happens to us after death is the result of our condition prior to it.
Because Jesus was perfect when he died, he would have no reason to endure separation from God in the afterlife (paradise -place of perfection and 100% goodness).
Only God knows the hearts of all of us when we take our last breath but we know that for those who have received Jesus, they are covered by him, his state of perfection and able to be received by the Father in paradise.
Death is the atonement for sin,the sin must die. That’s why Jesus took it all upon himself and died on the cross.
There’s lots to discuss and much I do not say with certainty but I could see how if I die in my sin I may ‘awaken’ to eternal separation from God and if I die in Jesus I ‘awaken’ to eternal paradise with God.
Jesus has fully restored Adam and Eve.
This has been an interesting conversation to read, as I take a more in-depth look at the cross this Lenten season. Thank you all for your contributions!
I asked a similar question of one of RZIM itinerant speakers, Mike Day last week, and I thought y’all would be interested in his reply…
For myself, I am evaluating how I communicate one of the central events of the Gospel (the cross) to skeptics and questioners, without portraying God as seemingly angry and bloodthirsty.
@Kyrie, I saw that you mentioned that you don’t believe God is angry, but how would you answer back if you were accused of worshipping a bloodthirsty God? Esp. after stating your first premise (Sin Requires Payment In Blood as Punishment)… Why is punishment necessary…esp. the requirement of ‘payment in blood’? Is this your summarisation of Paul’s position: ‘the wages of sin is death’? (Rom. 6:23)
I am trying to work out the difference (if any) between God actively punishing a person or nation, and God building natural (therefore, logical) consequences into His world at creation. I read the above verse more like, ‘the natural result of sin is death’. To choose sin is to choose death…not because God will then smite you and condemn you to hell, but because the logical consequence of not choosing God (i.e. Life) is to choose not-God (i.e. not-Life). To sin is to break relationship with God, and when relationship is broken with Life itself, then the decay of death will set in.
I do still believe that God actively punishes, but I believe it’s rarer than we think! Make no mistake; we will reap what we sow…for good or for bad.
So back to the original thought that @Narphi posed:
Ooo, the word deserve is a good one. I do believe it’s true that we deserve nothing good from God. He does not owe us anything; we cannot hold God hostage. What we do deserve is the logical consequences of our decisions as agentive beings in this world. So, if separation from God is where your actions are taking you in this life, then eternal separation will happen by choice.
But by Jesus’ death, our (individual and collective) sins are paid for. He was Israel’s (i.e. the people of God…past, present, future…Jew and Gentile) representative, and he took on the curse that was Israel’s for straying from the covenant. (See Deut. 27 as well as Galatians) The ultimate Passover lamb has been sacrificed, and we have been released from slavery to return from exile to JHWH, the Creator God. That is our salvation, which begins ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ and will continue on into the eternal new heavens and new earth.
Ok, enough verbal processing… How do y’all understand active punishment vs. passive punishment (i.e. natural consequences)?
Narphi, I think I am not too late to respond your query. I would like to share my understanding on this.
We learn from the Old Testament that the blood of a young bullock and lamb purges away the sin (Leviticus Chapters 4 - 7, Hebrews 9:22.
The sin had the power to separate Adam and Eve from God for ever and the union & fellowship between Man and God was broken unilaterally by the act of Adam. Of everything, the power of sin is more than any other things that do exist. God wanted to exercise His Love to prove that it is even more powerful than that of sin. In reciprocation, God gave his only Son that whosoever believes him should not perish but have everlasting life.
As per the Law of Old Testament the blood must be of the one without blemish and this was the reason for God himself took part flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14) to destroy the power of the sin ie. death. The Son of God who do not know sin was made to be the same (that Jesus be stricken and all the sin be stricken as well) that we may be made righteousness of God. The mission of the Jesus Christ who was sent to this world was to shed His pure, Holy Blood that it may wash and cleanse all who comes unto him. His death tore the veil that was in between God and Man that no High Priest nor any other man of this world was needed to stand between. By His death, He conquered the power of sin which is death (of every sinful man), blotted every ordinances that were contrary to us, destroyed the devil which had the power of death and squashed everything that was against Man to appear before God to seek forgiveness by the Blood of Jesus.
Not only Jesus submitted himself to the Cross and grieved in His Body, but also He poured out His Soul to death (Isiah 53:12) which is separation from God. We have to remind his Cry while in the Cross seeking God that He is forsaken.
The power of everything that were contrary to us has been broken and cursed and we are now free to seek God. The eternal suffering cannot be an atonement because the victory cannot be made whole without His Resurrection (I Corinthians 15:17). As the Chief Priest He had to carry His own Blood to God to repair the broken union and fellowship (due to sin) between Man and God that now we have union with God and even we shall dwell as one in Spirit with God (I Corinthians 6:17). We have Hope, Joy, Peace and boldness to go before God in the name of Jesus Christ to seek pardon from our sins, transgressions, inequities and trespasses. We no more have any Manly Priest, but the Heavenly Priest who has entered the High Place to pour His own Blood which is Purer than any other sacrifice that pleases God.
Hope my sharing would help you.
The bishop Athanasios would mention that the divine nature of Christ is eternal, so there was a way in which Christ’s suffering has an eternal aspect.
Practically, there are all sorts of questions that I probably will never know the answer to. I think that the Bible presents a lot more “that” assertions, than “how” answers.
Thanks for asking @KMac.
I definitely think we are on the same page in relation to this matter.
Death, due to sin, is but a consequence of the universe that is created. Sin needs to be punished by death, and to do otherwise would make God be unjust (which we know He is not).
However, the question of God being bloodthirsty is actually interesting. Some might actually feel that God is someone who is schizophrenic because there are times when He seems all loving, and other times He seems full of fiery wrath.
I think perhaps a good example to explore was when God brought the Israelites out of enslavement in Egypt:
He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes. (Psalm 105:37)
Even the elderly were in the pink of health despite being slaves.
Furthermore, if we look into Exodus 16-17, we see that the Israelites murmured and were unhappy with Moses and the Lord. However, they were not punished or struck down despite these. That was because they were under a covenant of grace - which is dependent on God’s goodness and actions, and not their actions.
However, later on near Mount Sinai, we see the Israelites mention:
The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord. (Exodus 19:8)
They included their own actions into the equation. It was then that God’s stance changed to tell them “not to approach the mountain”. That is also when the 10 commandments are given. Since the people seek to be judged by their actions, God will then need to be just to do as such. And immediately after the 10 commandments were given, the people actually broke the first one - You shall have no other Gods before me, by building a golden calf.
God is all-loving, but He is also a just God who cannot waver when it comes to punishment of sins. He could’ve just left it there since it is the people’s choice, but He made plans for Christ to come down to take on the punishment of sins of the world, so that in place we can take Christ’s place to be a child of God. In fact, in redemption, we become of a higher status than we were at creation.
So with all these in place, I would come to a conclusion that God is not bloodthirsty, but instead really love us, the people whom He has created.
Just my take on your question on punishment and God’s nature. Not sure if it accurately addresses where I am coming from, haha.
that would be incoherent with the understanding that our judgement occurs after death, so death cannot be the punishment for sin as otherwise there would not need to be a final judgement after death.
Death is the logical consequence of our self realisation as material egos as material bodies are temporary, e.g. time dependent.
The bible states that on the day you eat from the tree of realisation you will die as a warning of the logical consequence of self realisation.
I take the elimination of humans from the earth as a product recall by God for our souls to come back to him for judgement.
To look at the atonement as God changing his mind about us humans would deny him omniscience as he is unchanging. It is us humans who change in the atonement as in understanding how we can overcome sin and reconciliate with God by subjecting ourselves to his authority as Jesus had done, so that we can live in him as he in us.