ECD summary

Jeremy posted a comment that is both thought provoking and close to a theme of atonement discussion among Evangelicals:

The section about the wrath of God is interesting to me. I guess I’ve always just assumed Christ was crushed under God’s wrath not differentiating between God pouring out His wrath/punishing His son and His son being a suitable sacrifice. I think the key word here is “appeasing”.

How do you respond to the idea that God’s wrath was poured out onto His son and is demonstrated by Christ’s ……I’ll use the word….stress…over going to the cross? Did it come up in your conversation? There’s the “let this cup pass from me” verse and of course the agony demonstrated by sweating drops of blood. I’ve heard it argued that countless martyrs have gone on to brutal deaths, more brutal than Christ’s even, and yet were joyful even to the point of singing hymns. It’s then deduced that Christ wouldn’t be agonizing over losing his life at the hands of man but rather the facing of the wrath of God. Is there anything to this?

There’s no doubt that the Cross was stressful for Jesus, to say the least! God’s response to sin is a holy just wrath. The Scripture is quite clear and it also makes sense that a compassionate, loving God would be angry at the evil done in His creation and to His creatures. The legal versions of the penal substitution view of atonement is that main reason for the wrath is the just response to broken law. It’s not an "emotional" but a "rational" wrath, There is a penalty arising from broken law. There has to be punishment for the broken law and the penalty must be paid to satisfy the just demands of the law. God could pour out His wrath on sinners, but in His love, He poured it out on a substitute, the God-man, Jesus. So the cup Jesus refers to in the Garden is the cup of God’s wrath which He must drink.

This is a tight logic to this. But the thing I look for is not tight logic, but is it biblical? I’m not against logic in any way, but realize that logic is only as good as the premises. In this case the key premise is whether God must pour out wrath of it if can be satisfied in some other way. Must God always punish someone or can His just wrath be satisfied by a sacrifice? If you start with Noah at the end of Genesis 8 you find a bunch of instances where a sacrifice is made and "The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma." In Ephesians 5:2 this theme comes clear when it says, "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." This same sacrifice theme is all over the NT: For example, Hebrews 10:12 says, when Jesus "offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God." John says He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," The reality of a blood offering given to satisfy the righteous wrath and just penalty of sin is very clear in Bible.

But what I don’t find anywhere is that the Father pours out His wrath on a sacrifice. He does pour it out on evildoers who refuse forgiveness in Jesus. John 3:36 intrigues me be because it’s from the "gospel of love" as some put it. But no where in Bible does it say that God punishes the OT sacrifice or that He punishes Jesus. What He does is accept the death of the substitute as a propitiation, appeasing His righteousness.

I’m interested in your responses.

The ECD discussion got very careful in our review of the draft. The key was to affirm as much as all the participants would give Credo to. I was amazed at both the breadth and depth of agreement on what was said. We left it in a quasi-confessional form because that has a familiar feel to it. Here’s the final version of statement:

By our common faith in Jesus Christ we acknowledge and hold as essential to the gospel these life-giving truths:

The Cross is central to the saving mystery of God’s plan for the ages to make all things new in Christ. Therefore it cannot be separated or isolated from the birth of Emanuel, His life and ministry, His passion and death, His resurrection to life, His exaltation to the right hand of the Father, His sending of the Holy Spirit, or His return in glory as judge. In Christ God renews fallen humanity and liberates creation from its ancient curse, the bondage to corruption.

The atonement, the passion and death of Christ, is a Trinitarian event. The Cross is a vicarious sacrifice, a satisfaction, wherein the incarnate God is our substitute, in which the justice and mercy of God are revealed, out of which comes our justification and salvation. Christ is the priest, the sacrificial victim – Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us – and, as God, the one to whom sacrifice is made. Christ’s death on the Cross is the propitiatory sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God against sin and the expiatory sacrifice that cleanses guilt and shame. It is also Christ’s perfect spiritual worship of the Father, the source and example of Christian discipleship. The Father sent His Son into the world, so that the Son in obedience to the Father, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself in the shame of the Cross as a ransom for many. In the Cross He disarmed and triumphed over the evil powers. In His death and resurrection, He overcomes death. In His obedience, He conquers disobedience.


10 thoughts on “ECD summary

  1. Gerry:

    Good discussion on this one. I was at lunch with Scott Knight today and I had to get on him about this topic and he mentioned that he was going to be meeting with you tomorrow to talk about this topic. You seem to have an impact on him with this discussion on the “punishment” aspects of wrath and the cross. I think that the deepest miracle is that you actually got past his thick head!

    I know this was mentioned earlier in a blog response, but I, too, find my mind drifting to ISA 53 and the fascinating picture of the choice of the Father to perform these acts on His Son. It moves me to tears, yet again, that the Father would love me so. Listening to Christ speak to Nicodemus about this great love – knowing full well the ultimate cost – helps me to understand this “scheme” that God put into motion for mankind. Stunning…

    I hope things are going well for you & Sherry.

  2. Gerry,

    Ive been asking similar questions as I have progressed in my conversation with the Evangelical Covenant Church.

    It seems to me that what you are asking is similar to the thesis of Paul Peter Waldenstrom (an ECC forerunner). He also asks “where is it written?” with regards to penal substitution & the atonement. I’m still working on sources, but here is an article you might enjoy.

    From what I understand, Waldenstrom emphasizes the idea of the cross as “forgiveness” of sins, not “repayment.” He denounces a transferred of “wrath.”

    You know what’s interesting… this is the same issue Prof. John Master had with atonement back at my undergrad, Philadelphia College of Bible.

    Perhaps you know John from his ETS papers on The New Covenant. I’m not saying we are all in the same league of thought on this, but it is interesting that this keeps coming up in different settings of my education.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion… I’m still thinking on this one! I understand the critique of penal substitution as it pertains to God’s wrath, but NT Wright offers a challenging affirmation on penal substitution in the Victory of God. A different angle (as if anything else comes from Wright), but still valuable to the discussion.

    This Sunday I am preaching a theology of Isaiah as part of my OT series. I’m sure this will come up 🙂

  3. I think a point is being missed here: anyway one looks at it biblically, the wrath of God is directed at and carried out against the sinner, whether that wrath is endured by a substitute (Jesus), or the sinner himself (animal sacrifices are simply tokens of Christ’s sacrifice and have no value in themselves for the taking away of sin.) There is NO OTHER RATIONALE FOR BLOODY SACRIFICE.) Hence, even though Jesus is offering up himself, he is offering up himself as a sin-bearing, i.e., punnishment-for- sin-bearing substitute. This matter of the penal substitution of Christ is one of those issues which, like His deity, was so thoroughly handled long ago that to seriously question it again without recourse to writings of previous theologians is somewhat like reinventing the wheel from scratch in a Goodyear factory. Serious questioners should examine volume 10 of the works of John Owen, or Owen’s exposition of the priesthood in his commentary on Hebrews. For starters, however, listen to my lectures “All That Hate Me Love Death,” and “The Saving Merit of Christ’s Obedience,” from the RCF conference on or write me and I’ll send them.

    Note from Gerry: Richard sent this a couple of days ago and I accidently deleted it. So I’m posting it again in his name.

  4. This is good stuff, guys. It’s really helping clarify my muddled thinking. Bill is right: Bible!. Isaiah 53 does say clearly that the punishment that was due us went to Him. That punishment was death. He took it as our substitute. And He took it fully, both physical (separation of body and spirit) and spiritual (personal separation from God). There can be no retreat into a simply Christus Victor theme. That theme is true, but it cannot replace substitution.

    Further, it is clear that the Father did “crush” the Son as verse 10 says. I am intrigued with the idea that the Father sacrificed the Son in a way akin to Abraham sacrificing Isaac in Genesis 22. And perhaps the knife He wields. This would be in line with Acts 4:27-28:

    Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

    If this is so, and Bible seems clearly to say so, then the Father has a very active role in sacrificing the Son. And the Son as Second Person of the Trinity incarnate, willingly takes the penalty in our place.

    But as the priest is not angry at the animal he sacrifices and as Abraham is not angry at Isaac, I’m still thinking the Father is not pouring out emotion on His Son.

    More to come as we dialogue on this

  5. Hey Guys,

    Might I throw in my 1 1/2 cent check?

    God is Love. Love is conscious self-sacrifice for the benifit of the ‘other’. God relationship to every person, created children (tekna not huios) in His image as they are, is love. Hence, according to His nature He can do nothing other than sacrifice Himself for not only corporate Humanity but each individual that retains His image.

    I’m sure your asking what this has to do with the topic at hand. I would like to put forward the proposition that God’s wrath is never technically directed at persons but at sin. This is not a foriegn idea to us. Police do not shoot a person but a threatening action. In the same way God ‘punishes’ sin; not the person, per say. I understand this is difficult to see empirically since the action exists within and is accomplished by the ‘person’. It may help to think of the statement we often make as Christians; “Hate the sin, love the sinner”. Even we differentiate between the two.

    Sin = perceiving oneself as both origin and judge of what constitutes the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’, over and above God’s assertions. This is why a non-christian cannot accomplish anything ‘good’, for even the actions they do which are consistent with what God proclaims as ‘good’ are not based on God’s proclaimation but on their own independant judgments concerning what is ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

    God is love. Love always seeks unity. Sin is disunity. Therefore, God must challenge and distroy all disunifying sin if He is to accomplish the unity of all things, which is the demand of His love nature.

    If this is true then God’s wrath/punishment is necessarily constantly directed against all sin and, thus, empirically, but only consequently, upon the person in which the sin nature resides. The reason that this constancy was, and continues to be, less empirically evident than one might expect is that before Christ God, due to His great mercy and ‘love’, withheld his wrath, for the most part, in order to later place it on Christ. Even now He does so, wishing that none would perish but that all would come to eternal life.

    Returning to the specific topic: God’s wrath/punishment was not exerted, then, upon the O.T. sacrifices because the sacrifice did not truly bear the sin of the person but was only a symbolic forshadowing of Christ’s real and actual bearing of all sin. The sin Christ took upon Himself, however, did bear the full brunt of God’s wrath/ punishment, not only on the cross, though that was the culmination and concentration, but through His whole life (Isa. 53).

    God continues to withhold His wrath today, however, in the future unbelievers will feel the full brunt of it, eternally, due to the fact that there is nothing which resides within them which is not sin in keeping with their sin nature, for all is independance from God. The believer, on the other hand becomes enabled, through the unifying of God and mankind in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ, to die to themselves relinquishing their perception of themselves as origin and judge of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and walking in the Spirit, acting not on their own behalf but God’s as they seek to re-present Him. Trusting no longer on their own perceptions, they accept God’s will and judgments as ‘reality’ and in so doing, in agreeing with God that their sin deserves judgment, punishment and death, they become justified as they relinquish themselves to God’s judgment taking up their cross to follow Christ. Only in this way can one act apart from their sin nature and, thereby, become able to exist in the presence of God and, moreover, in re-presentational unity with Him.

    Well, it seems I’ve been rambling. Let me know if anything I’ve written has any worth whatsoever.

  6. I think there was a little confusion regarding the paragraph directly beneath my quote. To clarify, you’re not stating or explaining your own position, but the position of the penal substitution view, right?

    In another direction….

    “But what I don’t find anywhere is that the Father pours out His wrath on a sacrifice. He does pour it out on evildoers who refuse forgiveness in Jesus. John 3:36 intrigues me be because it’s from the “gospel of love” as some put it. But no where in Bible does it say that God punishes the OT sacrifice or that He punishes Jesus. What He does is accept the death of the substitute as a propitiation, appeasing His righteousness.”

    The paragraph above is exactly where my brain went for chunks of the day yesterday after reading your initial post on the topic.

    Like the gentlemen above I also ended up in Isaiah 53 racking my feeble mind over there. Bill covered a lot of my thoughts and questions so I won’t rehash them. I’m looking forward to your response to his post.

  7. Hey Gerry;

    Interesting thread… I hadn’t thought about this aspect of the atonement before. The first place in Scripture my mind went is Lev.16. After re-reading it, it seems very clear that the blood sacrifice – the sin offering – is God’s chosen sufficient means for satisfying His justice/wrath. It seems implicit that God’s wrath is then satisfied, **but not poured out** on the goat. In fact, the whole point of the sacrifice is so that His wrath is NOT poured out at all; God is… if I can use the word… appeased.

    BUT – Then my mind went to Isa. 53. And here it seems to me we do find punishment language. I realize the word “wrath” (heb. “Qatsaf”) doesn’t appear here, but I can’t avoid verses like 53:4-5. Especially “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him”.

    The language of the OT sacrificial system doesn’t seem to involve God’s wrath being poured out onto the sacrifice, but at the same time, as we read Hebrews 10, we’re reminded that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin in the first place (10:4)! So there must be something particular about Jesus’ atoning death. Perhaps there’s more to it than His perfection (spotlessness) as a sacrifice; perhaps His did in fact remove sin because God’s wrath was poured out on this one.

    I’m curious how you see Isa.53 fitting in to this discussion…

    I always enjoy thinking through these things “with Bibles open”.
    Thanks for how you’ve always encouraged me to approach life’s issues and questions this way.

    -bill brown

  8. I totally agree: words matter! The hilaskomai word group does include propitiation in the range of meanings. And that means that God’s wrath is satisfied, a much denied reality. But the meaning of the word really isn’t debatable. The piece I’m asking myself and ya’ll about is not whether God is wrathful, or whether Jesus’ sacrifice is what satisfies that wrath. I agree completely on those point. The thing I’m asking is if there is any where that it says that God/Father pours out wrath on the sacrifice. Or putting it another way, does God/Father inflict punishment on the substitute/sacrifice or is the death of the substitute/sacrifice sufficient to satisfy His justice and wrath? I’ve always assumed He “wrathed” the sacrifice. But it doesn’t actually say this, so far as I can find. It does say that the sprinkled blood (representing death) is a satisfying thing, a “pleasing aroma.”

  9. Very interesting post, Gerry. You claim, “What I don’t find anywhere is that the Father pours out His wrath on a sacrifice [or that] God punishes the OT sacrifice or … Jesus.”

    As Todd once said, “Words matter,” and without a doubt, I’ve thought and said the very thing which you “don’t find”!

    But, you too may be guilty of the same. In the paragraph following Jeremy’s extended quote, you claim, “God could pour out His wrath on sinners, but in His love, He poured it out on a substitute, the God-man, Jesus.”

    So, which is it? Has not Leon Morris convincingly argued that the meaning of ?????????? in Rom 3.25 close to “wrath absorbing substitute”?

    Help me understand …

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