Are you familiar with the hymn In Christ Alone? Do you know this hymn is not hundreds of years old? It’s not even 20 years old. In Christ Alone is a very modern hymn. It was written in 2001 by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.
I mention this hymn because it has these wonderful lyrics:
Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
“Wait a second, Paul. Are you saying God poured out his wrath on Jesus? That sounds twisted.”
I agree that there is something dreadfully wrong with the picture of a father killing his son to satisfy some legal need for blood. It falsely portrays God as guilty of filicide, the murder of his own child.
I know some people have been turned off from the gospel because they thought God killed Jesus. Never mind that Jesus said: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
But how does the wrath of God figure into this? Did God pour out his wrath on Jesus? Some say he didn’t but the hymn says it does. Which is it?
Before I give you my thoughts, I want to highlight three extraordinary facts about the cross.
1. On the cross Jesus literally became sin
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
Someone once said, “Don’t marvel that you have become righteous. Marvel that Jesus became sin.” Indeed, this is a great wonder. What does it mean? Were our sins laid on him, as the hymn says? Or did the sinless son somehow become sin itself?
The words of Paul fire the imagination. We might imagine Jesus drawing the disease of sin out of the human race into himself. Every hurt, every wound, every offense, every ache, every wrong, every injustice, every crime, every murder, every lie and rape, Jesus somehow bore.
But that was only the beginning. Look at what happened next…
2. God condemned sin in Jesus
For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3, NKJV)
That word “condemned” is katakrinō. It is just about the strongest word for condemn you can find. It’s made up of the verb krino, which means to judge, and the word kata which means down or against. Think of the word catastrophe and you get the idea.
God hates sin. When Jesus became sin on the cross, God came down hard. How hard? So hard that the sins of billions were condemned in the space of a few hours. So hard that the Son of God himself couldn’t live through it. So hard that sin has been dealt with once and for all (Heb 9:26). The cross was a total catastrophe for sin and a total victory for us.
This is pretty amazing, but we have one extraordinary fact left…
3. God was with Jesus on the cross when he died.
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ… (2 Cor 5:18-19)
We have this idea that God was up there while Jesus was down here, but Paul understood that God was in Christ the whole time. How does that work? I don’t know. The Trinity is a mystery. I can’t prove this but I believe when we see God the Father he will bear the same nail marks as God the Son.
“But didn’t Jesus say God had forsaken him?”
I am sure that from Jesus’ perspective he felt forsaken but there’s a difference between feelings and reality. Remember, Jesus had never experienced sin. Yet on the cross he became sin. In the fog and haze of sin he lost sight of his loving Father. But that doesn’t mean God abandoned him. Not for a second.
We need to change the way we look at the cross. The cross was not God engaging in child sacrifice. That makes no sense at all. The cross was God becoming one of us, taking on board the sin that afflicts all of us, and condemning that sin in his own flesh. Now, with that foundation laid, we can return to our question.
Was God’s wrath poured out on Jesus?
In a manner of speaking, it was. Not because God the Father was angry with God the Son. That could never happen! But because they were working together with God the Holy Spirit to rid the human race of the scourge of sin.
True, the Bible never actually says God poured out his wrath on Jesus. But it does say this:
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! (Rom 5:9)
Jesus saved us from sin and he also saved us from the cure for sin – God’s wrath. If you are in Christ, you don’t need to worry about the wrath of God. Since Jesus experienced it, you will never will.
The cross demonstrates both God’s love for us and his judgment against sin. On the cross, God condemned sin. This is the glad-happy message of the cross. Sin has been dealt with once and for all!