Whose wrath did Jesus take on the cross? We will look at this question today in my fourth installment of this series. You can read the first three parts here.
The purpose of this series is to offer an alternative look at the atonement and, hopefully, reconcile some of the conflicts we’ve created with our view of Jesus and the Father in the process.
Before I go further, I want refer to a series of posts I did at the end of last year that debunked some of the other myths we’ve believed about the Father and the atonement:
- God is NOT angry with sinners
- Jesus did NOT come to change God but to change us
- The Father did NOT look away or abandon Jesus on the cross
- God CAN look at our sin and countenance sinners like Jesus did
I’ve already make the point that salvation was not necessarily a payment to God but a rescue mission from God–to heal us from our deadly disease called sin and to deliver us from Satan’s prison camp. Jesus didn’t pay for our sins, He quite victoriously took them away. We’ve been looking at why this distinction matters.
But this begs the question, whose wrath did Jesus face? Obviously, He wasn’t just sick with a disease on the cross. He was horribly beaten beyond recognition and then suffered humiliation and death by crucifixion. Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, gives us just a glimpse of this unimaginably cruel brutality.
Scripture is actually pretty straightforward about assessing the blame. First, Jesus Himself said that He would be betrayed into the hands of men (Matt.17:22-23), specifically, His own Jewish leaders, who would hand Him over to the Gentiles (Matt.20:18-19). Furthermore, Peter laid the blame on the Jews (Acts 2:22-23, 36). But we also know that even Peter himself denied Jesus three times and the rest of Jesus’ disciples fled.
Since Jews and Gentiles are pretty much everybody, we killed Jesus.
You may object by saying you weren’t there. Actually, you were there. Paul tells us that our sin nature was there, nailed to the cross with Him. Not only were we the executioners, we died with Christ almost 2,000 years ago! (See Rom.6:3-11) We will look at that aspect of the atonement in another post.
Paul also tells us that we were the ones who were alienated, making ourselves enemies of God in our minds, and that God reconciled us to Himself, not the other way around (Bold-type added):
“And you, who once were alienated and enemies
in your mind by wicked works,
yet now He has reconciled” (Col.1:21 NKJV)
“that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,
not imputing their trespasses to them,
and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Cor.5:19 NKJV)
Beloved of God, we were the ones who made God our enemy in our own darkened minds; we were the ones who needed reconciling. It was our furious anger–our poisonous hatred and wicked treachery and blind deception that the Father of Love sent Jesus to heal and reconcile to Himself.
What actually was the cup of suffering?
Another question we need to consider is, what was the cup of suffering that Jesus was destined to drink? (See Matt.26:39-42). He asked the Father if He would take it away twice in the Garden of Gethsemane before surrendering His will to the task.
A traditional view is that this cup is the Father’s wrath. However, notice that Jesus didn’t say, “Your cup,” He said, “this cup” (bold-type added):
“He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying,
“O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me,
nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matt.26:39 NKJV)
We can easily disprove that this was the Father’s cup of wrath, as the Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) tells us, by simply looking at Matthew 20:22-23. This is where the mother of John and James asked Jesus to have her sons sit on His left and right side in the kingdom (Bold-type added):
“But Jesus answered and said, “You do not know what you ask.
Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink,
and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
They said to Him, “We are able.”
So He said to them, “You will indeed drink My cup,
and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with;
but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give,
but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.”
Think about this for a moment. Jesus tells James and John that they will indeed drink the same cup He was about to drink. We can only conclude from this statement that either they were not saved because, according to PSA, Jesus took the full wrath of God for us on the cross, or…this particular cup is NOT the wrath of God but something else. I think we should go with the latter.
What is more consistent is that this “cup of suffering” was the full fury of man’s hatred and enmity with God, which Jesus said they would indeed face in their lifetime.
“They will put you out of the synagogues;
yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you
will think that he offers God service.
And these things they will do to you
because they have not known the Father nor Me.“ (John 16:2-3 NKJV)
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you,
and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.” (Matt.24:9 NKJV)
We know that John’s brother, James, was killed by the sword (Acts 12:2). Tradition tells us John was boiled in oil and exiled on Patmos.
There are many other passages I could cite, but the point is, the cup that Jesus was to drink was the wrath of men, not God’s wrath. This cup of suffering is persecution in this world. The same cup of vitriolic hatred and rejection of God’s love that is held out to us to drink today. Why would we drink it? Because this is what love looks like.
“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus:
that if One died for all, then all died;
and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves,
but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Cor.5:14-15 NKJV)
Next time, we will take a closer look at Isaiah 53.