Over the years many people have sought to soften the message of the cross, in order to make it palatable for the society in which they lived. Theologians have begun to look for a ‘softer’ definition and reason as to why the Son of God would have to die on the cross in such a gross and inhuman display of suffering.
Some identify the cross as a display of self-sacrificial love and say that was the primary reason, to ‘show the world what is love.’ This is truth! However, it is not the central truth. Others declare that the cross was God’s victory over evil. Again, absolutely true! The cross vanquished all of Satan’s power and authority; the resurrection crowned Jesus as King, and He will reign until all rule and authority is brought under His dominion (see 1 Corinthians 15). However, this is also not the central truth. What is the primary message of the cross? Why did Jesus ‘have’ to die?
The writer of Hebrews declares, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (of sins)” (Hebrews 9:22). Paul made clear in (1 Corinthians 15:1-5 NIV), “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” and “by this Gospel you are saved.” The Bible is clear! God was in Christ (2 For 5:19) dying as our substitute and in our place, so that judgment could be satisfied and we can be restored to God, as if sin never existed!
In the society in which we live, and unfortunately in many churches as well, people tend to shy away from the concept of ‘sin’ and even more so from the concept of God having had wrath or anger towards sin. Now, let me clarify: in the past, as is also true today, many preachers have often focused solely on the issue of sin and judgment. Because of this, the Gospel lost its power, and whole generations have been turned off to the message of Christ.
I also want to clarify that, though God had wrath towards sin, He has always loved people. His anger is aimed at the sin that has wrapped itself around us. Like a cancer, sin has taken over and is destroying God’s good creation to the point that God. without the cross, was unable to deal with sin without destroying the people trapped within it. The great flood of Noah in Genesis 6 is a primary example. God, in His mercy, had to deal with sin in an extreme way, so that the surviving remnant of His creation would have a way to live and thrive again in a better world. In grace, He prepared an ark to rescue all who would believe! He did the same thing a few thousand years later through Jesus! Upon Jesus all judgment for sin came down once and for all time. Now all who are found in Christ need never fear God’s wrath or judgment ever again.
God of Wrath or God of Love? Though the Bible in both the New and Old Testaments speaks of God having wrath, it does not describe God as a ‘God of wrath.’ He is described as God of Love. John makes it clear in 1 John 4:8 that God is love. It does not say He is loving or loves people, though He does both. Rather, He is love; it is His true nature. The true definition of love is found in God. God is love!! Nonetheless, God is also holy, pure and righteous. His holy nature requires that He not overlook sin, but that sin be punished. God’s wrath has been defined as his ‘holy response towards sin.’ So how can God maintain His righteousness and at the same time forgive us? The answer is an old English word used in scripture called ‘propitiation.’Unfortunately, this word means next to nothing to the modern reader. However, for first century Christians, especially the ones who came out of Judaism, this word had profound meaning. In Paul’s presentation of the Gospel in Romans it is a central theme.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth asa propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)
Paul is declaring that despite that fact that all of us have sinned and are deserving of God’s judgement, God’s solution is through the propitiation, God sending Jesus as the one who would represent all of humanity, take the full weight of God’s wrath towards sin, and, by giving His blood, satisfy God’s desire for both justice and mercy. This is propitiation. Then, with judgment being complete, God can declare as innocent that guilty person who believes upon Jesus.
I know that is a mouthful, so let’s look at it in a more modern translation:
For we all have sinned and are in need of the glory of God. 24 Yet through his powerful declaration of acquittal, God freely gives away his righteousness. His gift[a] of love and favor now cascades over us, all because Jesus, the Anointed One, has liberated us from the guilt, punishment, and power of sin! 25 Jesus’ God-given destiny[b] was to be the sacrifice to take away sins, and now he is our mercy seat[c] because of his death on the cross. We come to him for mercy, for God has made a provision for us to be forgiven by faith in the sacred blood of Jesus. This is the perfect demonstration of God’s justice, because until now, he had been so patient—holding back his justice out of his tolerance for us. So he covered over[d] the sins of those who lived prior to Jesus’ sacrifice. 26 And when the season of tolerance came to an end, there was only one possible way for God to give away his righteousness and still be true to both his justice and his mercy—to offer up his own Son. So now, because we stand on the faithfulness of Jesus,[e] God declares us righteous in his eyes! ( Romans 3:23-26 TPT)
This translation puts ‘propitiation’ as ‘mercy seat,’ taking us back to the Jewish ark of the covenant. The Mercy seat was the covering of the ark. Made out of pure gold, it had two angels set over the middle of the box. Here God, through a sacrifice on the ‘day of atonement,’ would meet with His people through the means of the blood of animal sacrifices. The mercy seat represented ‘satisfaction’ for sin or ‘cleansing,’ as well as a place of ‘meeting.’
For centuries, the Jewish people, according to God’s instructions, would go through these ceremonies. They would select a male lamb, required by law to be ‘without blemish.’ This lamb would then be taken to the priest, and presented as an offering, to satisfy God’s judgment towards that sin. They would confess their sins over the head of the animal, signifying the transfer of their sins to the sacrifice. The priest would then butcher the animal in front of the people, pouring out the blood as a ‘propitiation’ to atone for their sin. With their sins covered by the blood, they could now come before God and meet with Him. However, this covering was only temporary until the next time they sinned. These things all pointed forward to Jesus and to the great day when He would make His once-for-all sacrifice for sins. His blood was shed for all people and for all sin. It does not only cover our sins, but it permanently removes both the power and penalty of it.
The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Jesus ‘became our sin.’ He was not only the sacrifice for it; He literally became sin. As our sin, He took the full weight of the judgment that we deserved. Like a magnet, all of the sin of the whole world came together and was judged once for all time. Isaiah 53:6 says “God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ In the old days the temple priest would lay his hands upon the sacrifice and confess over it the sins of the worshipper. Upon the cross God the Father confessed over his Son the sins of us all, and unlike the ancient sacrifice, the sins of the world actually came upon Jesus.
Let’s look at what Jesus had to say about this:
Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. 32 And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” 33 This He said, signifying by what death He would die.(John 12:31-33)
When did Jesus say was the time of judgment for the world? Now! Not in the future. The judgment for sin happened more than 2000 year ago when the spotless Lamb of God hung on the cross. When was Satan defeated? 2000 years ago, through the cross. He went on to say, “and I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” In the original Greek, the word ‘people’ is non- existent. The translators added that word to try to bring clarity. Certain translations will have the word ‘people’ in italics because it is not in the original text. Jesus did not draw ‘all people’ to Himself. He did however draw ‘all judgment’ to himselfwhen he hung on the cross. This interpretation goes along with the context of the above verse where Jesus says, “now is the judgment of this world.”
The point that you need to see is that your sin and the world’s sin were already judged over 2000 years ago when God dealt with sin on the cross. The hammer of judgment came down hard on sin when Jesus became sin and bore the full punishment. God is not punishing you, nor anyone else for that matter, for their sins. There will come a future day of judgment for those refusing to believe on Jesus, but not for you as a believer and not for your sins. Your judgment has already taken place.
Now we can understand how, through Adam, sin came into the world, and came to all men. Adam represented all humanity and his act of sin brought the consequence of death to all people. That is why Jesus had to become a man. Through His death He represented man to God and took the full punishment for sins. Sin requires judgment, but Jesus took that judgment about 2000 years ago. We owed a debt that we could not pay and He paid a debt that He did not owe. Jesus paid it all!