Our Sins and His Cross

Cross

Sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:2). Jesus came to bring back peace between man and God (Ephesians 2:13-16). To do this, He needed to do something to remedy the problem of sin. Peter wrote, “Christ also died for sins once for all” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s solution for sin. But how did this fix the problem? Some teach that our sins were placed upon Christ and then, in essence, “nailed to the cross.” Is this what happened? It is a familiar concept. But is it a Biblical idea?

One passage used to justify the idea that Jesus took on our sins and carried them to the cross is 2 Corinthians 5:21. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” What does it mean that Jesus was made “to be sin on our behalf”? Isolating this verse from its context and ignoring related passages, there are three possible interpretations:

  1. Jesus became the embodiment of sin.
  2. Jesus took on our sins or our sins were transferred to Him.
  3. The Holy Spirit is using metonymy (a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is substituted for another that is closely related). Jesus was not made to be sin, but a sin sacrifice.

Reading just this one verse, one could arrive at any of those conclusions. But which one is right? To determine the correct interpretation, we will have to look at other Bible passages and see what idea harmonizes with Scripture.

Jesus: The Embodiment of Sin?

Jesus existed before creation (John 1:1-2). His spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). In order to be able to come to this world, a “body” was “prepared” for Him (Hebrews 10:5). The eternal, divine spirit of Jesus was housed in a human body. Could Jesus then become the embodiment of sin?

John said, “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God cannot fellowship sin. Sin has no place with God. If Jesus became the embodiment of sin, He would have forfeited His Deity. He would have ceased to be God in the flesh (Matthew 1:23) and “Deity…in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9) and would have become sin in the flesh and iniquity in bodily form.

Furthermore, if Jesus became the embodiment of sin, one of two things would have to be true about His death. Either sin would have ceased to exist after His death or Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient. We know sin still exists because John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves” (1 John 1:8). But we also know that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient. The Hebrew writer said, “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to save all who would come to Him “for all time.” This interpretation is clearly not correct.

Our Sins: Transferred to Jesus?

The idea here is that Jesus took on our sins. By doing this, our sins were essentially “nailed to the cross” at His crucifixion. Our sins became His sins; therefore, they are no longer our sins. If this is true, then we are no longer accountable for our sins because they have become His sins. What would have to logically follow then is that we, as Christians, cannot be lost. Since Jesus made sacrifice “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10), that sacrifice would cover our past, present, and future sins. If he took on our sins and nailed them to His cross, no future sin could be committed that would be held against us. The doctrine of “once saved, always saved” would be an inescapable conclusion.

If our sins were transferred to Jesus 2,000 years ago and eradicated in His death, we have no need to seek for forgiveness. We have no obligation to obey God. If our sins were “nailed to the cross,” why did Saul have to be told, “Be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16)? If this doctrine were true, his sins would have already been washed away. There would have been no need for him to be baptized.

If Jesus had man’s sins transferred to Him prior to His death, one of two things would have to be true. Either all men will be saved or Jesus did not die for the world but just for a few. We know that not all will be saved. In fact, Jesus said “many” will go down the “way [that] is broad that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). But we also know that Jesus died for the world (John 3:16). How can we harmonize these passages with the idea that Jesus took on our sins? If Jesus died for the world and the sins of the world were transferred to Him, we should see the Bible teach that all will be saved. On the other hand, if only a few will be saved and the sins of those who are saved were transferred to Christ, we should see the Bible teach that the sacrifice was not made for all but only for the elect. This faulty interpretation causes Scripture to contradict Scripture. Jesus said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Therefore, this view cannot be correct.

What about passages that seem to teach that our sins were transferred to Christ? Let us notice a couple of them:

1 Peter 2:24 – “And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” Yes, Jesus “bore our sins in His body.” But what does that mean? Let us notice Isaiah 53:4, a passage that prophecies of the suffering of Christ: “Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried.” Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. What does the Bible mean by these terms?

In Matthew 8:16-17, we have inspired commentary on the passage we noticed in Isaiah. In this passage, those who were sick and demon-possessed were brought to Christ and He healed them. Verse 17 specifically stated that this was a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:4. What does it mean that Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows? Does it mean he contracted the diseases He healed? No! Does it mean He became possessed with the demons He cast out? Certainly not! Then why do we interpret 1 Peter 2:24 to mean that our sins were transferred to Christ? What that passage means is that Jesus made it possible for our sins to be forgiven. He did so in the sacrifice of His body on the cross. He did not take on our sins any more than he took on the diseases and demons of those He healed in Matthew 8.

Hebrews 9:28 – “So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” We already noticed in looking at 1 Peter 2:24 what it means when it says that Jesus bore our sins. It means He made provision for them to be removed. This passage is simply teaching that when Jesus came the first time, He came to make sacrifice for sins. When He comes the second time, it will not be to sacrifice, but to gather home those who took advantage of His sacrifice and had their sins forgiven.

Jesus Christ – A Sin Sacrifice

The interpretation that we are left with is that Jesus was made a sin sacrifice. The Holy Spirit used a figure of speech known as metonymy. This simply means that one word or phrase is substituted for another that is closely related. Hence, “sin sacrifice” is replaced with “sin.” This is actually used quite often in the Bible in relation to this topic. Leviticus 16 discusses sacrifices which were to be made for sins. It refers to the “sin offering” ten times in the chapter. But if you look at the Hebrew, the language in which this was originally written, you see the word “sin” but not “offering.” But “offering” is implied by the context. The bulls and goats did not become sin. They were a sacrifice for sin. The translators, experts in the language, recognized the figure of speech being used and translated the passage accordingly. Likewise, Jesus did not become sin. He was a sacrifice for sin.

If this is true, then we retain our sins until we meet God’s conditions of pardon. This harmonizes with Scripture. Jesus made forgiveness possible, but we have a responsibility to meet His conditions. Just as Saul retained his sins until he had them washed away in baptism (Acts 22:16), we retain our sins until we obey the gospel.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Christ lived a life free of sin and offered His body on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. By His death, remission of sins is possible. If we follow the teachings of His word, we can be “righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).


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