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Question:

"If Jesus actually "became sin," if those sins of ours were actually credited to His account (so to speak), then how could He not have remained eternally separated from God?"

Answer:

I used to wonder about that too. After all, I believe that the punishment for sin is eternal torment in hell (see my article called Will Sinners Burn in Hell Forever?), so if Christ took the punishment that we deserved then why didn't He have to spend eternity in hell?

It turns out that the Bible does not say that Jesus took the punishment that we deserved (as we'll see in a moment). Recall that Jesus took upon Himself all of the sins of all people throughout all time (Romans 5:6-8, 18-19, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 1 John 2:2), and He endured the agony of bearing all of those sins. So let's think about that for a moment. When Jesus experienced the agony of bearing everyone's sins, was that the same punishment that you and I deserved? Obviously not, because after a sinner (i.e. an unsaved person) dies then he will be punished for his own sins, but the Bible never says that he will bear the punishment for everyone's sins. In other words, Jesus collectively paid for everyone's sins, which is different than what we would experience if we died without receiving salvation. Jesus did not receive the same punishment that we deserved.

Also, notice that no matter what punishment will be received by sinners after they die, Jesus did not experience that punishment. For example, some people believe that sinners will suffer in hell for all eternity, yet Jesus did not go to hell for all eternity. Other people believe that sinners will suffer in hell for a period of time and then be totally annihilated, yet Jesus was never annihilated (and never will be). Some people believe that sinners will suffer in hell for a period of time and then they will all receive salvation, yet Jesus did not suffer in hell (see below) and He never needed to receive salvation because He was never unsaved. So no matter what will happen to sinners after they die, notice that Jesus did not experience what they will experience. What it boils down to is that Jesus did not receive the same punishment that we deserved.

Now let's take a look at numerous passages which tell us what Jesus did for us:
Romans 3:23: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"
Romans 3:24: "and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
Romans 3:25: "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--"

Romans 5:6: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
Romans 5:7: "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die."
Romans 5:8: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Romans 5:9: "Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!"
Romans 5:10: "For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!"
Romans 5:11: "Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."

Romans 5:18: "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men."
Romans 5:19: "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous."

Romans 6:10: "The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God."

1 Corinthians 6:20: "you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."

1 Corinthians 7:23: "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men."

Galatians 1:3: "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,"
Galatians 1:4: "who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,"

Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Galatians 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.""

Galatians 4:4: "But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,"
Galatians 4:5: "to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons."

Colossians 1:19: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,"
Colossians 1:20: "and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
Colossians 1:21: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior."
Colossians 1:22: "But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation--"

1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,"
1 Timothy 2:6: "who gave himself as a ransom for all men--the testimony given in its proper time."

Titus 2:13: "while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,"
Titus 2:14: "who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."

Hebrews 2:17: "For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."

Hebrews 9:11: "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation."
Hebrews 9:12: "He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption."
Hebrews 9:13: "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean."
Hebrews 9:14: "How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!"
Hebrews 9:15: "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant."

Hebrews 9:24: "For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence."
Hebrews 9:25: "Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own."
Hebrews 9:26: "Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself."
Hebrews 9:27: "Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,"
Hebrews 9:28: "so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him."

Hebrews 10:9: "Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second."
Hebrews 10:10: "And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
Hebrews 10:11: "Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins."
Hebrews 10:12: "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God."

1 Peter 1:18: "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,"
1 Peter 1:19: "but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."

1 Peter 2:24: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."

1 John 1:7: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."

1 John 2:1: "My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One."
1 John 2:2: "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

1 John 4:10: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Based on the above passages, here is what Christ did for us:

  • "redemption ... came by Christ Jesus"
  • "sacrifice of atonement"
  • "died for the ungodly"
  • "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us"
  • "we have now been justified by his blood"
  • "we [are] saved from God's wrath through [Jesus]"
  • "we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son"
  • "through [Jesus] we have now received reconciliation"
  • "the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men"
  • "through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous"
  • "died to sin once for all"
  • "you were bought at a price"
  • "You were bought at a price"
  • "gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age"
  • "gave himself for [us]"
  • "redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us"
  • "God sent his Son ... to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons"
  • "and through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things ... by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross"
  • "he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death"
  • "gave himself as a ransom for all men"
  • "gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify [us]"
  • "[made] atonement for the sins of the people"
  • "entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption"
  • "offered himself unblemished to God"
  • "died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant"
  • "entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence"
  • "appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself"
  • "was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people"
  • "we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all"
  • "offered for all time one sacrifice for sins"
  • "[we were redeemed] with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect"
  • "bore our sins in his body on the tree"
  • "the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin"
  • "the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world"
  • "an atoning sacrifice for our sins"
Notice that nowhere do those passages say that Jesus experienced the same punishment that we deserved. Instead, those passages tell us that Jesus' atoning sacrifice was a ransom which redeemed us and reconciled us to God. What it boils down to is that Jesus did not receive the same punishment that we deserved.

Here's another way to look at it. The Bible tells us that Jesus was ruthlessly tortured and humiliated, and then He was brutally executed on a cross, and His body stayed in a tomb for 3 days, and it appears that He spent some time in Hades but without suffering (see my article called Did Jesus Go to Hell after He Died?), and then He rose from the dead and spent a period of time on the earth in His glorified body (John 20:19, 24-28, Acts 1:1-4), and then He visibly rose up into the sky and took His place beside the Father in heaven. Notice that none of those things which Jesus experienced after He died will be experienced by any sinners after they die. So again, Jesus did not experience the same punishment that sinners deserve, and sinners will not experience what Jesus experienced.

Consider that if Jesus had committed just a single sin then He would have been a sinner like the rest of us, and He would have required the same punishment that individual sinners require. He could not have been an atoning sacrifice as a "spotless lamb" if He had committed any sins. Not only did Jesus never commit any sins during His life, but He also did not become a sinner in any way by paying our ransom on the cross. Jesus never deserved nor received the punishment that individual sinners will receive. Jesus did not become a sinner on the cross, but instead we are told that "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21). In other words, the Father punished sin on the cross, the Father did not punish Jesus as a sinner. There's a huge difference! Jesus did not become a sinner when He paid our penalty, and therefore He did not receive the punishment that individual sinners will receive.

Some people argue that since Jesus did not suffer eternally in hell, therefore suffering eternally in hell cannot be the penalty which sinners will receive. This argument is based on the assumption that Jesus, as our Substitute, took the exact same punishment that we should have received. But as we have seen, that is a faulty assumption. For example, imagine that I have a 4-year-old daughter who disobeys me one day, so I tell her that she will be spanked. Imagine that I also have a teen-age son who steps forward and offers to be her substitute and to be punished in her place. I agree to the substitution, and I punish him by grounding him for 2 weeks. At that point, punishment has been done and I am satisfied. Notice that my son did not become a person who had disobeyed me, and in the same way, Jesus did not become a sinner on the cross. Also, notice that my son made a substitutionary sacrifice in place of my daughter, yet he did not receive the same punishment that I had planned for her. Instead, he received a punishment that I felt was appropriate, and which was satisfactory to me. In the same way, Jesus made a substitutionary sacrifice in our place, but He did not receive the same punishment which the Father has planned for sinners. Instead, He received a punishment which the Father felt was appropriate and which was satisfactory to the Father.

Now let's consider what it means to "be made sin":
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
As we have seen, Jesus did not become a sinner on the cross, Jesus became sin for us. They are not the same thing. Here is what some Bible commentaries say about 2 Corinthians 5:21 (above):
"sin--not a sin offering, which would destroy the antithesis to "righteousness," and would make "sin" be used in different senses in the same sentence: not a sinful person, which would be untrue, and would require in the antithesis "righteous men," not "righteousness"; but "sin," that is, the representative Sin-bearer (vicariously) of the aggregate sin of all men past, present, and future. The sin of the world is one, therefore the singular, not the plural, is used; though its manifestations are manifold (John 1:29). "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the SIN of the world." Compare "made a curse for us," Galatians 3:13." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link)

"He made to be sin (amartian epoihsen). The words "to be" are not in the Greek. "Sin" here is the substantive, not the verb. God "treated as sin" the one "who knew no sin."" (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)
What this means is that fallen humans have all committed sins, but Jesus became sin for us. The point here is that "committing" sin and "being" sin are not the same thing, so we shouldn't expect them to receive the same punishment. As the commentaries above point out, Jesus did not become a sinner, He became sin (He became the representative sin-bearer for the world). As Bible scholars sometimes put it, Jesus was made to be sin for us in a substitutional way, but He was never made to be sinful in a personal way.


Conclusion

Jesus never sinned during His life on earth, and He did not become a sinner on the cross. He paid our ransom by becoming our Substitute, and His ruthless torture and brutal execution on the cross perfectly satisfied the Father's righteous requirement.

The Father did not punish Jesus as a sinner, but instead the Father punished sin itself through Jesus' atoning sacrifice.

Since Jesus did not become a sinner on the cross, He did not experience the same punishment that sinners deserve, and sinners will not experience what Jesus experienced.


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 08/11/2006 - Added a lot of new information.
  • 07/17/2001 - New article.