Category Archives: Theology

A Tension at the Cross

As I was preparing last week’s post, reading and re-reading it again and again, it occurred to me that a brief follow up post would be necessary to highlight the tension that takes place in the Bible between God’s sovereignty and providence and the actions of men, particularly as it relates to the cross.  Remember in that post, I asked the question given Isaiah 53:5, who ultimately is doing the actions of “wounding and crushing” Jesus Christ for “our transgressions and iniquities” and a “chastisement” or punishment that miraculously brings believers peace.  Remember from that post that the Jews, i.e. Caiaphas and the people (see Matthew 26:62-67 and John 19:15) wanted Jesus punished for His alleged blasphemy.  They had no idea that there was any transaction about to take place between the Father and Son on behalf of believers, not the least of which was Christ dying on the cross for the sins of men. 

Now think through this for just a moment, men are physically beating and scourging the Son of God, they physically place Him on the cross, by their physical hands they have mutilated the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet none of this compares to the spiritual torture of being wounded and crushed for our iniquities and transgressions.  Yes both are taking place, both are necessary, yet God has sovereignly planned and ordained all of it.  A man does not have the power to wound God’s Son for taking on the sins of men.  Men do not have the power to offer up a punishment to Christ that subsequently brings peace to believers.  The hands of men have no power to propitiate God’s wrath or expiate the sins of men.  This is why it was absolutely necessary that Jesus be both fully human and fully divine, in order to suffer the physical death at the hands of men and defeat it through His resurrection, but also to suffer divinely at the hand of God in order to remove the sin, guilt, and punishment of those who place their faith in Him.  Both are necessary and as we will see highlighted in a handful of passages below, the sovereignty of God and the willingness of Christ were on display at the cross as the ordained plan of God was performed at the hands of men.

Isaiah 53:6b “and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Isaiah 53:10 ESV “Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.”

Isaiah 53:10 KJV “Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He hath put [Him] to grief: when thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see [his] seed, He shall prolong [his] days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.”

Matthew 16:21-23 “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.” 23 But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Luke 22:22 “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by who He is betrayed!”

Luke 24:26-27 “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

John 10:17-18 “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.  This charge I have received from my Father.

Acts 2:23 “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Acts 3:18 “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He thus fulfilled.”

Acts 4:27-28 “for truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand had predestined to take place.”

Acts 13:23 “Of this man’s offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as He promised.”

Acts 13:27 “For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize Him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled them by condemning Him.”

Acts 26:22-23 “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Philippians 2:5-10 “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Hebrews 2:9-10 “But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. 10 For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

The Suffering Servant

[warning long post ahead!  For the sake of a continuous thought I cannot break it up into parts]

As we’ve seen, questions and objections have come up regarding the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ that we’ve been studying here recently.  A primary objection being made comes from Isaiah 53:4.  If you haven’t been following, please go back and read previous posts before reading this one, Survey of the Cross, Substitutionary Atonement: Response 1, Response 2.   We cannot adequately deal with verse 4 of Isaiah’s 53rd chapter, unless we maintain the context of what many have come to call the passage of the Suffering Servant, which actually begins at Isaiah 52:13.

Here is the passage:

“13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.  14 As many were astonished at you – his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind – 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.” Isaiah 52:13-15 

I want to break here briefly to point out that although Isaiah is the author of this passage, it is the Lord God who is speaking.  In the phrase “my servant”, we see the possessive pronoun “my” referring to God the Father, while servant here refers to God the Son.  He is calling Jesus His servant.  We see this exact same language in Isaiah 42:1 where the Lord again is speaking as He says, “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”  There can be no question that the voice in either of these passages from Isaiah is the Lord God.  However, note how in the beginning of the next chapter, the voice changes back to Isaiah (and the ‘remnant’, .i.e. we/us). 

“Who has believed what he has learned from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  Isaiah 53:1-4

Let’s pause here again and review what we’ve just read.  In the opening of this chapter, Isaiah is referring first to himself as a prophet commissioned by God who was given a message to deliver, which the people would (did) reject. (see Isaiah 6:8-13)  Additional context is provided by the Apostle Paul, as he quotes this same verse in Romans 10:16 in the context of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  So we see the connection between the prophets of Isaiah’s day and those who preached the Gospel in Paul’s day.  The importance of this really lies as a side note to our discussion, but maintaining biblical context is critical. 

In verses 2-3 we see a description or picture painted by Isaiah of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was not born as an earthly king would be, in a castle with the best of amenities.  He was born in a lowly manager, to a poor family and there was nothing physically commanding or special about how He looked.  Then Isaiah prophesies (it’s interesting how this is hundreds of years before Christ’s death, but Isaiah speaks as though he is looking backwards, not forwards) that Jesus would be “despised and rejected by men”.  Just as I pointed out that the voice speaking changes from God at the end of chapter 52 to Isaiah now, we must also follow Isaiah’s description of who is doing and receiving the actions that he is prophesying of.   In verse  3, he tells us that it is men that (will) despised and rejected Christ.  He wasn’t respected and was largely ignored with respect to being God’s Son.

In the first part of verse 4, we see a passage quoted by Matthew in his gospel account, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.’” Matthew 8:17  The word “griefs” in Isaiah’s passage is better translated sicknesses, so as we read in Matthew’s context, Jesus has just healed many and in an even larger context all sickness and disease will be abolished in heaven, because of Jesus.  So the prophecy of Isaiah reached its first fulfillment in the earthly ministry of Jesus.

The second part of verse 4 is where the objection to penal substitutionary atonement has been made.  The objection follows like this, “Isaiah states that “we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” and this language clearly indicates that the speculation of the Jews that Jesus was punished by God for the sins of the people was an error in the minds of the Jewish people.  So it follows that Jesus did die for sins, but was not punished by God, nor did He receive God’s wrath for those sins.  In summary, this verse tells us that it is a Jewish error to assume that Jesus took the punishment from God for our sins” 

One immediate problem with this objection is that Isaiah has not even made the connection yet between Jesus and sin, so it’s error to assume this.  It’s actually taking the remainder of the passage and reading it back into verse 4 and it leads to a faulty conclusion.

There are several additional problems with this objection, but first let’s summarize what we’ve been learning through Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus’ suffering and death.  We started with God announcing that His Son Jesus was His servant, so it follows that He is going forth to do the will of God and serve Him in some capacity.  God Himself tells us of the physical beating and disfiguring that takes place on the cross, “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind.”  Then He says the following, “so shall he sprinkle many nations.”  What is being sprinkled here by Jesus?  God Himself is saying that His Son will sprinkle His blood on many nations.  Remember back to our first post on the Day of Atonement  when the high priest sacrificed a goat and took the blood and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, thereby making propitiation.  Here God is alluding to the Old Testament atonement, but is linking it to His Son, who makes THE propitiation.  As we will see in a future post, Jesus not only fulfilled the office of High Priest with His atonement, but was Himself the sacrifice.  Continuing our summary of what we’ve read so far, we then looked at how Isaiah goes on to shed light on Jesus’ earthly ministry and as we’ve seen his prophecy was considered fulfilled by Matthew. 

Now back to the objection that has been raised, “Yet, we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”  The little phrase “yet, we esteemed” is actually 1 Hebrew word, chashab, which the ESV and KJV have translated into the phrase you just read.  This word, in the Hebrew, gives the idea of “to think” or “make judgment”.  So if I were to simply explain here what is being said by Isaiah, it would be this, “He [Jesus] healed our sicknesses and diseases, but we thought He was punished and beaten by God in order to be humbled by God.”  The objection stated here is correct in saying that the Jews had the wrong idea about why Jesus was being crucified, but the objection itself is wrong in dismissing God the Father from the equation.  Let’s look at first why the Jewish thought was wrong.

In Matthew 26 we read of Jesus’ trial before the high priest Caiaphas, 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?”

In this passage we see Caiaphas accusing Jesus of blasphemy and the judgment of death being declared.  On what basis were they claiming that Jesus deserved death for alleged blasphemy?  The law, namely as defined in Leviticus 24:16, “Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.”  When Isaiah says that “we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” he is saying that the people wrongly thought that Jesus was being punished for blasphemy.  This is where they got it wrong, because Jesus really is the Son of God; it was not blasphemous for Him to say so.  However, notice that the Jews rightly recognized that God upholds the holiness of His name and His law and it is He that executes judgment based on violations of His law.  The Jews recognized that a violation of God’s law resulted in punishment by God to the offender.  They understood that, but wrongly accounted Jesus as a blasphemer.

Remember earlier when I said it’s important for us to realize who is doing the action in these verses and who is receiving the action?  In this verse, Isaiah has established that God the Father is doing the action and God the Son is receiving the action and this is not broken, until he tells us.  In verse 5, he has not broken off of this idea yet, but simply corrects the faulty view that the Jews had of believing Jesus died for His sin of blasphemy.  He clearly states the actual reason for Jesus’ death, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  We must ask here, given our context, who is administering the wounding, crushing, and chastisement?  Is it men or God?  Obviously men are carrying out the action, but is it ultimately at their hand that Jesus is suffering?  No!  If that were the case, then Isaiah would be saying that men punished Jesus for taking the sins of men.  Not only is that supported nowhere in Scripture, it doesn’t even makes good sense.  Isaiah is saying here that Jesus wasn’t punished by God for His own sin of blasphemy (which He was accused of), but instead he was wounded and crushed for our sins.  He was chastised (muwcar) meaning disciplined or corrected, which gives the idea of punishment in order to bring about corrective action, by God and this brought us (believers) peace. 

In Romans 5:1 we read of this peace made with God, “Therefore since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Later in this same chapter, Paul states, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Romans 5:9  Unbelievers are under the wrath of God (John 3:36), there is no peace between them and Holy God.  But believers, those who place their faith in Jesus Christ, have peace with God.  Where did the wrath that was once on them go?  Did it simply vanish?  No!  As we read in this passage from Isaiah, God poured it out on His Son by wounding, crushing, and punishing Jesus for the sins of all those who believe.  “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” Isaiah 53:10

If you don’t understand or can’t accept that Jesus took the punishment that was due to you, if you are a believer, then you need to ask yourself why.  Why don’t you like it?  Because it’s too unbelievable?  Because it’s too bloody, too gruesome?  That is the amazing love of Jesus Christ for His people.  That He was willing to lay His life down for His sheep and take the punishment, namely the wrath of God, that was due to them.  Unbeliever, you have but 2 choices, face the wrath of God for yourself for your sins.  Or place your faith in Jesus Christ, the one who absorbed the wrath of God for sinners just like you.  Ask God for mercy.  Then repent and believe.

Historical Baptist View of Substitutionary Atonement

I’ve never been one who holds to a particular creed or confession and often question those who seem to esteem them on the same level as Scripture, but I have found value in being able to succinctly and directly communicate what one believes.  While reading through the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith I found the following declarations applicable to what we’ve been discussing here recently.  I’ve underlined several of the key phrases that help define the substitutionary nature of Christ’s atonement. 

From Article 8. Christ the Mediator

4. This office and duty of Mediator and Surety the Lord Jesus undertook most willingly. To discharge it, He was made under the law, and perfectly fulfilled it, and He underwent the punishment due to us, which we should have borne and suffered. He was made sin and was made a curse for us; enduring the most grevous sorrows in His Soul with the most painful sufferings in His duty. He was crucified, and died, and remained in the state of the dead, but His body did not undergo any decomposition. On the third day He rose from the dead with the same body in which He had suffered, with which He also ascended into Heaven, and there sits at the right hand of His Father making intercession, and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

5. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself which He, through the eternal Spirit, once offered up to God, has fully satisfied the justice of God, has procured reconciliation, and has purchased an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven for all those whom the Father has given to Him.