This is the first of my “red pill” posts, looking at the question, “Did God kill Jesus?” The reason for my provocative question is because this is a central tenet of the popular atonement theory called Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA).
If you’re like almost all Christians in the Western world who’ve studied why Jesus had to die for us, PSA is what you were taught and embraced. This paradigm is fully enmeshed in our gospel message, what we hear everyday in sermons in our churches, on the radio, TV, Internet, books, and what we sing about in our worship songs. It’s almost unquestioningly assumed to be THE understanding of why Jesus did what He did. I embraced and even taught this view myself for over 30 years.
I already did a series on the atonement called “Saving Easter,” so I will try not to duplicate a lot of what I said there, although some overlap will be necessary. I also gave you some terminology in my introduction that will be helpful in this series. Please read that post first if you haven’t already done so.
I would like to be able to ask you to read this with fresh eyes, without any bias, as if you never heard any atonement theory before. But since this is impossible, I only ask that you read with the awareness you already have a bias, and that it may make it difficult for you to accept what I’m proposing, even if my position is clearly shown to be the more accurate one.
Let’s turn our focus now to the question: “Did God kill Jesus?” You can probably guess what my answer will be by the above graphic, but in order to prove this to you, we will look at Isaiah 53.
Before we dig into the details, let’s step back and see the big picture.
Isaiah 53—the big picture
Isaiah 53 is often referred to as the “Suffering Servant” passage (technically, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, but here we’ll just refer to it as “Isaiah 53”).
What was the purpose of the Messiah’s suffering in Isaiah 53? The PSA proponents would say it was to suffer the full fury of God’s anger and wrath in our place so that we could be forgiven.
Fortunately, in the case of Isaiah 53, Scripture interprets itself. Matthew gives us the divine commentary on its fulfillment in his gospel account (bold type added):
“When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“He Himself took our infirmities
And bore our sicknesses.” (Matt. 8:16-17; cf. Isa. 53:4, NKJV)
Did you catch that? Matthew seems to think that Isaiah 53 was all about DELIVERANCE and HEALING. Jesus demonstrated, by casting out demons and healing the sick, that He came to heal us and free us from Satan’s bondage.
The Greek word for “infirmities” is ἀσθένεια (astheneia). It can mean weakness, feebleness (1 Cor. 15:43); bodily infirmity, state of ill health, sickness (Matt. 8:17; Luke. 5:15); metaphorical infirmity, frailty, imperfection, intellectual and moral (Rom. 6:19; 1 Cor. 2:3; Heb. 5:2; 7:28); suffering, affliction, distress, calamity (Rom. 8:26).
The Greek word for “sicknesses” is νόσος (nosos), meaning disease, sickness, or distemper (Matt. 4:23, 24; 8:17; 9:35).
In addition, the Greek word for “save” is σῴζω (sōzō). It’s used throughout the New Testament as follows: to rescue; to preserve safe and unharmed (Matt. 8:25; 10:22; 24:22; 27:40, 42, 49; 1 Tim. 2:15); to cure, heal, restore to health (Matt. 9:21, 22; Mark 5:23, 28, 34; 6:56).
Healed, set free, made whole, placed in perfect union with Christ!
What’s in view here is that Jesus took our BROKEN CONDITION called sin–our sickness, disease, weaknesses and alienation, in order to RESCUE us and bring us into perfect union with Himself. He came to restore us to our intended purpose, although this purpose was never seen before Christ (Eph.1:4-5; Col.1:15; Heb.2:10). Let’s apply this definition to some of the key verses in Isaiah 53 (Words in CAPS added):
Surely He has borne our BROKEN CONDITION,
And carried our BROKEN CONDITION” (Isa. 53:4a)
And the Lord has laid on Him the BROKEN CONDITION of us all. (Isa. 53:6c)
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the BROKEN CONDITION of My people He was stricken. (Isa. 53:8b)
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their BROKEN CONDITION. (Isaiah 53:11)
This view would agree with what the early church father’s believed, and what the Eastern Orthodox church still believes. To quote Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389 AD):
For that which He [Christ] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole (Ep. CI, To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius; NPNF Series 2 Vol. VII p. 440).
I know this is foreign to our Catholic/Protestant ears, so I will translate. Mankind was damaged through sin. Christ came to assume the entirety of that condition, healing our broken condition by fusing it to divinity.
This has to do with hypostatic union, which we can talk more about another time. The point being, nowhere does Matthew suggest that Isaiah was talking about God having to kill Jesus so that He could forgive us.
Beloved, God is not like some pagan deity that must be appeased by throwing virgins into the volcano so he doesn’t burn our village. He’s a GOOD Father. He is called Love, and Love sent His eternal Son to HEAL us and make us His. I will show that this view is consistent with Jesus’ teachings and how He revealed the true nature of His Father.
I know, you’re thinking about Isaiah 53:10. We will get to that. For now, I just want you to consider the big picture.