Now, Contending for the Faith. In this regular feature, Dave and Tom respond to questions from listeners and readers of The Berean Call. Here’s this week’s question: “Dear Dave and Tom: I believe you two are pushing your own view of the Christ’s propitiation for our sins into the realm of heresy. The Scriptures teach that Jesus paid for our sins by His physical death on the cross. No more; no less. Where do you get the idea that Jesus suffered an eternal penalty for us? If that were the case, then He could not have resurrected from the dead.”
Tom: Dave, this is—you know, we’ve gotten a number of questions like this. People accusing us of heresy, and in a sense, I have to be a little bit empathetic, because specifically outside of Isaiah 53, all of the Scriptures—not all, but many of the Scriptures in the New Testament talk about the blood of Christ, dying on the cross…I can’t think of some verses that would say, “Oh here it is. This demonstrates that Jesus must have paid an infinite penalty.” What do you say?
Dave: Well, first of all, let’s take the last sentence: that if He suffered an eternal penalty then He couldn’t have risen from the dead. (Chuckling) Well, that’s forgetting that Jesus is God.
Dave: The only reason that He could suffer an eternal penalty without suffering forever would be because He’s God. He’s infinite. Therefore, He could suffer an eternal penalty in those three hours on the cross or even in less time.
Tom: Yeah, Dave, to make a distinction, here…and correct me here. The penalty is for finite beings.
Dave: That’s right.
Tom: So, when we’re talking about infinity for a finite being, an infinite God…isn’t that what you’re saying? An infinite God can and did pay that penalty? It says, “He tasted death for every man.”
Dave: That’s right. There’s another scripture specifically, other than Isaiah 53. That’s Hebrews 2. Now, if He tasted death for every man, what is death?
Dave: Death is not merely being in hell; in Hades, you know. It is the lake of fire. “Death and hell are cast into the lake of fire,” Revelation 20 says. And it declares, “This is the second death.” So Jesus must have suffered the second death. Furthermore, He must have suffered the second death for every human being. What is the second death? Eternal separation from God in torment in the lake of fire forever.
Dave: So, if Christ did not pay that, then you couldn’t say He tasted death for every man. Nor could Christ have said on the cross, “It is finished. Tetelestai. Paid in full, okay?
Tom: Dave, let me back it up just a little bit. The Scripture also says that He suffered the wrath of God.
Tom: That’s part of the penalty: the wrath of God.
Dave: “All thy waves and thy billows have rolled over me,” the psalmist said. Now, that could not be merely the physical suffering He endured on the cross for a few hours. And it could not be, certainly not, the beatings that were administered by the Roman soldiers.
Dave: We’ve talked about that in the past. How could they be God’s instruments in executing His infinite penalty, His infinite justice upon Christ, through scourging Him and so forth, now that He was crucified, that He was beaten and so forth? That was in fulfillment of the Scriptures. This is an integral part, an important part of the Cross. It shows the evil, the wickedness, of mankind.
Dave: This is what the creature did to His Creator. So, in the cross, on the one hand, you see the horrible evil—“The heart is deceitful above all things; desperately wicked.” And you see that man would tear the Creator from His throne and put himself in His place if he could. So, here he is—“They hated me without a cause. He came to His own and His own received Him not.” That’s on one hand. That was what the cross…the physical suffering was about.
Also, His blood had to be poured out. He didn’t swoon. He was three days and three nights in the grave, as the Scripture said. He really died. He was physically dead, and only on that basis—His conquering physical death—would there be a physical resurrection for us. And death came because of sin. Therefore, the penalty for sin had to be paid, or there couldn’t be a real resurrection. We know that Lazarus, for example, that Jesus raised from the dead, or the widow Nain’s son, or whoever it was. They were raised from the dead, but that wasn’t the power of Christ’s resurrection, because they died again.
But Jesus Christ was raised never to die again. Therefore, the penalty for sin had to be fully paid. Now, the Bible—you cited Isaiah 53—it’s quite clear there. “It pleased Yahweh to bruise Him. Thou hast put him to grief when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” He made Him to be sin for us.
In other words, Christ didn’t sin. He did no sin; He knew no sin; in Him there was no sin. He was wholly harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, the Scripture says. But He was treated by God as though He were sin itself. He took the full penalty for every sin of every human being.
Otherwise, Tom, there couldn’t have been the resurrection of Christ, because He was there in our place and there could not have been the resurrection of Christ; there could be no salvation for us. We could never rise from the dead, but the Bible promises that to us on the basis of Christ having paid the full penalty. So, I don’t know what this person’s concern is. The physical suffering could not pay the full penalty for an eternity in the lake of fire for billions of human beings, nor could it be the punishment that God put upon Christ when He laid on Him our sins. It made His soul an offering for sin.
Tom: But Dave, one of the reasons I have a little empathy for the person who wrote this was that when we began to address the movie The Passion of the Christ….
Tom: We began with an article in The Berean Call, and then of course, I wrote the book Showtime for the Sheep? Some of the responses…I think terrific responses to both the article and the book were that people had not thought about this. Again, there are so many Scriptures that seem to point to the physical suffering, but they didn’t pull back and say, “Wait a minute, what penalty did Jesus pay?” And they were greatly encouraged that we had directed them to the penalty that Jesus paid. And that only He could pay being God and man.
Tom: Now, let’s just go back to one more statement. We have been talking about the gospel in Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. Dave, if he could have explained some of these things….
Tom: You know, I just saw him on an interview with Larry King, Larry King Live and he doesn’t explain this at all. And you’re left with, Oh, well, it’s just the Christian way, but you don’t know what that means. It’s sad, but that’s happening in the church all over.