The Dangers of

Did the Saviour
Pay the Penalty for our Sins
Prior to the Cross?


"Who His own self bore our sins in His own body ON THE TREE"
                    (1 Peter 2:24).

A common teaching of Reformed men is that the Lord's death on the cross was not the only place where sin's penalty was paid. They connect the payment of this penalty with our Lord's sufferings apart from and prior to Calvary's cross. They often point to the Lord's sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane as being a time when the Lord Jesus was suffering as the Divine Substitute for man's sins. 

In light of the Reformed doctrine of "vicarious law-keeping," such a view is not surprising.  If Christ's righteous acts were substitutionary, and if His law-keeping righteousness was imputed to the believer's account, then it would follow that our Lord's non-cross sufferings should also be substitutionary and expiatory.  Reformed men teach that His sufferings throughout life were expiatory, but the Bible teaches no such thing.  See Vicarious Law-Keeping (Christ's Active Righteousness).

Here are some quotes by Reformed men who share this view:

John R. W. Stott, Rector of All Soul Church, London, (British Evangelical) explains that the sufferings of Christ in the Garden of  Gethsemane are of such magnitude that they are equivalent to hell:  “We may even dare to say that our sins sent Christ to "hell," not to the "hell" (hades, the abode of the dead) to which the Creed says he  "descended" after death, but to the "hell" (gehenna, the place of  punishment) to which our sins condemned him before his body died...God in Christ endured it in our place. (The Cross of Christ, p. 79, 161)

C. H. Spurgeon - “I do not know whether what Adam Smith supposes is correct, that in the garden of Gethsemane Christ did pay more of a price (for our sins) than he did even on the cross; but I am quite convinced that they are very foolish who get to such refinement that they think the atonement was made on the cross and nowhere else at all” (A Treasury of Spurgeon on the Life and Work of our Lord,  Grand  Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979, p.119)

C. H. Spurgeon - "I feel myself only fit to be cast into the lowest hell; but I go to Gethsemane, and I peer under those gnarled olive trees, and I see my Saviour. Yes, I see him wallowing on the ground in anguish, and I hear such groans come from him as never came from human breast before. I look upon the earth and I see it red with his blood and, while his face is smeared with gory sweat, and I say to myself, ''My God, my Saviour what aileth thee?' I hear him reply, 'I am suffering for thy sin.'" (A Treasury of Spurgeon on the Life and Work of our Lord,  Grand  Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979,  p.131).

Matthew Henry - (speaking of His sufferings in the Garden) "He was now bearing the iniquities which the Father laid upon him, and, by his sorrow and amazement, he accommodated himself to his undertaking. The sufferings he was entering upon were for our sins, and they were all to meet upon him and he knew it." (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew to John, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991, p. 320)

F. W. Krummacher is one of the worst offenders in this regard.  His chapters in The Suffering Saviour pertaining to the Garden of Gethsemane are too long to be included here.

There are at least two key reasons why we know that our Lord was not bearing our sins in His own body in the Garden of Gethsemane.  1) In His prayers in the Garden, the Lord always addressed God as "Father" (see Matthew 26:39,42,44; etc.).  It is unthinkable that the Lord Jesus would have addressed God as "Father" at a time when God was acting as the Holy Judge, pouring out His terrible wrath upon the Substitute of sinners.  There could be no enjoyment of the Father/Son relationship at such a time (compare Matthew 27:46).  If He were forsaken by God in the Garden, then how could He address Him as "Father"?  2) Immediately following His time in the Garden, the Lord Jesus said, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11).  Notice that the drinking of the cup of God's wrath was yet future.  He had not yet partaken of that cup.  He would drink of that cup on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24). 

The Lord's anguish in the Garden was anticipatory of Calvary's cross.  It did not involve His suffering for our sins, but it anticipated this awesome event.  C. H. Mackintosh's explained:

It is evident there was something in prospect which the blessed Lord had never encountered before,--there was a "cup" being filled out for Him of which He had not yet drunk.  If He had been a sin-bearer all His life, then why this intense "agony" at the thought of coming in contact with sin and enduring the wrath of God on account of sin?  What was the difference between Christ in Gethsemane and Christ at Calvary if He were a sin-bearer all His life? There was a material difference; but it is because He was not a sin-bearer all His life.  What is the difference?  In Gethsemane, He was anticipating the cross; at Calvary, He was actually enduring it.  In Gethsemane, "there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him"; at Calvary, He was forsaken of all.  There was no angelic ministry there.  In Gethsemane, He addresses God as "Father," thus enjoying the full communion of that ineffable relationship; but at Calvary, He cries, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"  Here the Sin-bearer looks up and beholds the throne of Eternal Justice enveloped in dark clouds, and the countenance of inflexible Holiness averted from Him, because He was being "made sin for us"  [Cited by Chafer, Volume III of the Eight Volume set of Systematic Theology, p. 40]

For a fuller discussion of these important points, see L. S. Chafer, Volume III of the Eight Volume set of Systematic Theology, pages 36 and following (the section is entitled "Sufferings in Life").

William Kelly, in his notes on 1 Peter 2:24 [Two Nineteenth Century Versions of the N.T., Present Truth Publishers, NJ, pages 647-648], answers the unbiblical theory and utterly false doctrine that Christ bore our sins throughout His earthly life:

The hypothesis is incompatible, not merely with the word used by the Holy Spirit here and everywhere else, but with the broadest and most solemn facts which the most unlettered of believers, taught of God, receive with awe and adoring gratitude. What meant that supernatural darkness which in the hours of broad daylight wrapt up the cross from a certain point?  What the cry of Him who had ever, in the fullest enjoyment of love, said "Father," but now "My God, my God, why didst thou forsake me?"...If He had been all His life bearing our sins, He must all His life have been abandoned by God who cannot look on sin with the least allowance.  But no: Isa. 53:6 attests that Jehovah laid our iniquity on His Anointed when He hung on the tree....How unfounded is the idea that our Lord was bearing sins all His life! 

The following is a listing of passages which teach that our Lord's expiatory work of bearing our sins in His own body took place in connection with His death on the cross, and did not include the many sufferings of His life on earth prior to the cross.

"And, having made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20).

"Christ died for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3).

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).  Please notice that this passage is quoted in 1 Peter 2:24-25 where it is made clear that Christ's work of bearing the iniquity of us all took place "on the tree."

As the animal sacrifices took place on the altar [the type], so the Lord's sacrifice took place on the altar of Calvary's cross [the antitype]

The strong implication from Matthew 27:45-46 is that the three hours of darkness were the hours when Jesus was forsaken by His Father because it was then that our sins were laid upon Him.   Consider the words of the hymn: "So might the sun in darkness hide, and shut His glories in, when Christ the mighty Maker died, for man the creature's sin."

"Who was delivered for our offenses" (Rom. 4:24).  Compare Romans 8:32.

"We were reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Rom. 5:10, and see verse 9, "by His blood").

"For He (the Father) hath made Him (Christ) to be sin for us, Who (Christ) knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).  Though Christ was not a sinner, He was treated as a sinner when He was made a curse for us.  Though we are not righteous, we are treated as righteous because God sees the believing sinner in His righteous Son.

Paul begins Galatians with this statement: "Who gave Himself for our sins" (Gal. 1:4) and near the end of the book makes this statement: "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14).  The two statements are intimately and vitally connected.

Christ became a curse for us when God poured out His wrath on our Substitute. When did He become a curse for us?  "On a tree" (see Gal. 3:13).

Because of our SIN-BEARER we are made NIGH (near) and we have been reconciled to God.  How and where did this take place?  "By the blood of the cross" (see Eph. 2:13,16).

We were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

"Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24).

"For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18).  Two points to notice about this passage:  1) The phrase "once suffered for sins" clearly limits His bearing of sins to a specific time.  It was a one time act of redeeming love.  The phrase is not at all consistent with a lifetime of suffering for our sins;  2) Christ once suffered for our sins, and this is equated with His being "put to death."  Thus, it is His death sufferings that are involved, not His sufferings throughout His incarnate life.

"Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Rev. 1:5).

Paul did not glory in Gethsemane; He gloried in the cross (Gal. 6:14).  He did not preach the Garden; He preached the cross (1 Cor. 1:18; 2:2).  Peter did not teach that Christ bore our sins in His own body in the Garden, but on the tree (1 Pet. 2:24).  

                                                                                    --George Zeller (Nov. 2003)


"Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani"
 Mark 15:34

It Happened At Calvary!

For myself -- I speak as a man -- I never found peace before God, or conscious rest with Him, until I was taught the force and meaning of that cry of Jesus of Nazareth -- "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani." Never until I understood that He, who knew no sin, had (then and there, on the cross) been made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, could I rest as a sinner in the presence of a holy God. And, as I suppose, it is owing to the distinctive peculiarity of that -- His sorrow under the wrath of God -- not being understood -- that so many Christians have no settled peace at all.

The questions of sin and of guilt have never been met in their consciences. The incarnation is amazing and beautiful. That the eternal Son of God, the only begotten Son of the Father, should have become a babe, and been laid in a manger of an inn: the contrast between the glory He came out of and the place man assigned to Him, is a contrast! -- God and heaven could express their delight over Him, then and there, as well as feel it (Luke 2:8-14). But the bearing of our sins in His own body was NOT in the cradle, but on the cross, and on the cross alone.

The flight into Egypt -- the return and settling at Nazareth of the Child, the Youth in the temple and in returning from Jerusalem, time hidden retirement of His early manhood -- is beautiful, each in its place; but none present us with Him as in the act of bearing our sins. Again, when we look at Him as (when He voluntarily identified Himself with those that owned their need of repentance, confessing their sins) at His baptism, in His service and ministries, all, and each part of all, is beautiful and perfect; but, if heaven could approve Him in each step, heaven, too, could give its avowals of approval to Him. Yet He stood not as sin-bearer under the judgment, at any of these periods.

Again, what a contrast, and who ever felt it as He felt it, between Himself as the seed of the woman and the race of man to whom He had come! What a contrast between Himself personally and individually, and the house of Israel, His own, among whom He had come! Himself not only God manifest in the flesh, but that holy thing that was born of the virgin -- holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, apart from sin; and yet voluntarily, amid sinful men and guilty Israel, the immaculate seed of the woman, the King of Israel in His holiness. This brought with it sorrows. So, when He had entered upon service, did the constant persecution for righteousness, which He endured, and the consciousness that there was none who could sympathize with Him, and that fallen men welcomed not the mercy of which He was the messenger -- sorrows He had to endure at the hand of the world and man; but even that was not forsaking of God. But in none of these parts, nor in the being straitened when His soul turned to His coming baptism; nor when, in the garden, His soul passed into the scenes which then lay immediately before Him, was there (any more than anywhere else) that which there was when He cried out -- "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani." Here, too, He was perfect; forsaken of God, He would not, did not, forsake God. Never did God or heaven see perfection shine out of Him as then and there, when His obedience was at the goal -- "Obedient unto death, the death of the cross." But, if heaven found -- in His submission under forsaking, for the sake of others -- its delight, for it was the revelation of God as the Savior-God, there was, there could be (just because it was forsaking for sin, our sin, which He had to endure) no expression of approval, NOTHING BUT FORSAKING.

Why hast thou forsaken Me?

I do not see how a sinner can find rest until be has learnt somewhat of that which is distinctly peculiar to Calvary -- learnt that, then and there, there was a cup drunk by the Lord, in obedient submission to God -- cup of wrath due to us only, undergone by Christ at Calvary. The only spot I turn to, when in conscience the question is about sin or guilt, or sins (of the human family, of myself as an individual, &c., &e.), is Calvary, and to the Lord there, crying out-- "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani."

He bore my judgment in my stead, then and there, in His own body on the tree, in the presence of God, and received the woe of wrath and forsaking at the hand of God. And there is my quittance, clear, amid full, and complete, but there alone.

The experience of His soul when He said, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" was altogether peculiar and distinct from that which He had to endure and experience at any other time whatsoever. In that suffering of His, as forsaken, I get the measure and the judgment of my sin against God.

G.V. Wigram, Occasional Helps 1:272-274. 

 [Taken from Roy Huebner’s Thy Precepts, Vol 14, # 4, July/Aug 1999]


Healed By His Stripes

Isaiah 53:5 is often thought to be a reference to the scourging Jesus received at the hands of the Romans. It says: "by His stripes we are healed."  Is this really referring to suffering that Christ endured from Roman scourging prior to His going to the cross?  It is better to understand Isaiah 53:5 as referring to the terrible punishment Christ received at the hands of God the Father when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree of Calvary's cross.

The great emphasis of Isaiah 53 involves not what the Romans did to Jesus but what God the Father did to Jesus. He was stricken and smitten by God (v.4), even though we know that at His trials He was smitten by the Romans.   It is true that Christ was bruised by the Romans during His trials as they struck Him with their hands and their fists and abused Him in other ways, yet Isaiah 53 emphasizes that He was bruised by the LORD (v.10).  The emphasis in Isaiah 53 is upon what GOD did to Him--see verse 6 ("The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquities of us all"). Isaiah 53:5 says that the Messiah "was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities." 

The clear teaching of the Bible is that Christ paid the penalty for our sins when He died on the cross, not prior to the cross. See 1 Peter 2:24 which says that He "bore our sins in His own body on the tree." When Isaiah 53:5 says "by His stripes we are healed" it is referring to the punishment inflicted upon Him by the Father when He was punished as our Substitute. This is further confirmed by 1 Peter 2:24 where Isaiah's phrase, "by whose stripes ye were healed," is quoted by Peter. This same verse makes it clear that it was on the tree (cross) that He bore our sins in His own body. Thus we conclude that the stripes mentioned in Isaiah 53:5 were blows received from God the Father when He died for our sins and not blows received from scourging at the hands of the Romans prior to the cross.

William Kelly’s comments are helpful: 

When it is said, "By His stripes we are healed," is it credible that a saint could believe they refer to His being scourged by the soldiers? These figures so multiplied in Isaiah 53 express not merely of what man did to Jesus, but what He suffered from Jehovah, when He [placed] the iniquity of His own on the rejected Messiah -- figures taken from what is common among men, but above all to express that which He Himself inflicted. It pleased Jehovah to bruise Him, it was He that put Him to grief; and it was for the transgression of His people that He was stricken. He bare the sin of many. [William Kelly's "The Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16," as found in R.A. Huebner's publication, Thy Precepts, Vol. 14, #4, July/Aug 1999, page 123.]

For further study, see The Savior’s Sufferings in Life by Robert P. Lightner [Bib. Sac. Vol. 127, January 1970] and by the same author, Sin, the Saviour and Salvation, Chapter 11, "Obedience and Suffering in Life."

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