Thursday, October 21, 2010

Penal Substitution, the Curse and the New Covenant

The whole of Scripture shows us that Christ died in our place paying the penalty for our sins.

It is not a sin to give to Jesus the account that is demanded to us if Jesus with the purpose of the Father puts Himself forward on our behalf to be the representative of the people of God. So, yes it was sinful that men condemned Jesus who has innocent but it was also part of God’s predestined plan (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). God can use sin for His good. In the acts of these sinful men God was also pleased to use the cross to lay his curse against Jesus on our behalf (Isaiah 53:10; Galatians 3:13).

Furthermore if it was truly sinful for someone to stand and represent others by their actions (as Jesus does) then it would have been a sin by God when by God’s own hand all Israel suffered the consequences of Achan’s sin (Joshua 7). Again, if this were true then it would have been a sin for God to punish Israel because of David’s sin in taking the census (2 Sam. 24). In the Bible, especially here with David, we see that the King can stand as a representative of the people. So Jesus, our king, can and does stand as our representative.

At this point there is a beautiful picture in Zechariah 3. Satan comes and accuses Joshua the high priest. And Joshua comes before the Lord filled with the filthy garments that symbolize his sin. The Lord removes them and places festal robes on Him. He says, “See I have taken your iniquity away from you.” Zechariah tells us this is symbol for what God is going to do through “My servant the Branch” (which is how Old Testament prophecy refers to Jesus). What will God do? He says: “and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.” (The land is a metonymy for the people of the land.) It is a promise about the future death of Jesus. In one day Jesus does something that enables the Father to take Joshua’s iniquitous garments and cleanse them--and He will do this for His people.

We need the Son of David to do something to remove iniquity and I am arguing this is why He must represent us substitutionally. Human beings in our sin cannot meet the standard that God has set because God’s holiness and perfection is absolute and beyond our ability to meet because of our wickedness. We make a mockery of sin and wickedness when we think that you can give an account and pass through judgment without Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

You see God would not be holy if He cleared the name of the guilty therefore all guilt should bring condemnation to everyone. However, Jesus becomes a sacrifice of atonement whereby He bears the wrath that God has for sin and actually accomplishes the redemption of His people. So Jesus bears the curse of sin that comes through breaking the Law. Even though Jesus was perfect and in all ways without sin, He bears the curse. He removes our curse by coming under the curse. You cannot escape the Biblical testimony that to be on the cross is to come under God’s curse.

God’s own Law pronounces a curse for anyone who dies on a tree/cross. Not only was it a sin that wicked men condemned an innocent man, but when someone is put on a cross they are immediately under God’s own curse (Deut. 21:22-23; Gal. 3:13). If dying on a cross is a curse from God, and Scripture says it is, you have to answer the question: why would Jesus come under not just bloodshed from men but under a curse from God? Yes Jesus died from bloodshed. But just to make the point more forcefully: regardless of how they got there anybody who has their bloodshed by dying on the cross is actually under God’s curse. Being on the tree/cross automatically equals being under God’s curse and wrath. God’s Word tells us that and you cannot change God’s Word. The very fact that He ends up there means once He is there He is instantly under a curse from God.

I suppose you could argue He should not have been there because He was personally innocent--but once He is on a cross God’s curse is on Him. So that makes God unjust for cursing an innocent man, that is unless of course He comes under God’s curse for another reason. Either way: He is under a curse from God from the moment He is on the cross because God’s Word say being on the cross is a curse from God, I am sounding like a broken record. So either God has a reason and plan or God is an unjust judge for letting that happen to Jesus. Since you cannot be on a cross and not be under God’s curse, why would God let that happen?

As I've argued before: the question is not whether or not Jesus' death is penal (or not penal) but how the penal death is (or comes to be). The death on the cross is penal. To be on a cross is to be under God's curse. So either God curses Jesus because He deserved it (which we know from Scripture is untrue). So either God unjustly condemns an innocent man, or there is another reason why there might be an innocent sufferer.

Jesus becomes the curse for us--in our place.
Gal. 3: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”—
14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

In this way we can receive the promise of the Holy Spirit which is part of the New Covenant. We receive this not through obedience to works of the Law (God’s commands) but through faith. In fact, Paul tells us we do not get the Holy Spirit by doing the works of the Law but receiving and believing the message that Jesus was crucified for us (Gal. 3:5). The gift of the Holy Spirit shows us there has indeed been a change from the first covenant (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant just as God has changed the priesthood from Levites to Jesus (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Heb. 7:12, 18-19; 8:6,7,13 10:9b).

Following this post, a commentator remarked ""For when there is a change of the priesthood, there MUST also be a change of the law." Heb. 7:12 "

In the quotation of Hebrews 7:12 the commentator seems that accepting Jesus as the atonement in our place changes the Law since in the Law we are only accountable for our own sin.

I would simply note that God’s Word in Hebrews argues that since there is a clear change in the priesthood from Levites to Jesus of Melchizedek’s order (for it makes clear Jesus is the New High Priest), then the Law is also changed. It is not we who somehow change the Law if we accept Jesus’ atonement, adding to it and therefore sinning. Nor is it that God adds to His Law by telling us it is a sin to accept Jesus' death for ourselves. Rather it is God who puts an end to the curse that the Old Covenant brings. The Law brings the curse because you and I don’t obey it. The gift of the Holy Spirit does not come nor is it promised through the Law. Because of my sin and without the Spirit I am powerless to obey God’s Law to the perfect extent that it requires so then it can only and ever bring the curse. God’s plan send His Son to pay for the penalties of the first covenant, the Law, and bring this covenant to fulfillment by establishing the second, or New Covenant. There is a change in covenants that God brings through His Son. This does not nullify the Law (Old Covenant) but establishes it, even as the Old Covenant had a system of guilt offerings predictive of what was needed to remove sin. This establishment of the law is not done without the perfect sin offering that Jesus is since no Covenant between God and His people can be established without a sacrifice for the removal of sins (Hebrews 9:11-28). Christ’s first coming was to bear the sins of many and because of His work He will come back a second time for those who await Him knowing and trusting in what He has done (Hebrews 9:28).

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