Many people over the centuries, and even indeed recently, have denied some part of what happened at the crucifixion. Some people have said God didn’t know it was going to happen. Some people have said it’s an accident, and others have said it’s some form of divine cosmic child abuse.
There are many people who have said this, like Brian McLaren and others, names that don’t mean very much to us most likely. One more notable person though would be Rob Bell, who basically wrote a whole book that tried to make the point that the traditional Christian view was that Jesus saves us from God, and how could that possibly be good news? How it could it possibly loving that Jesus had to save us from God by himself, an innocent person, being punished for something he never did? He makes the point that that couldn’t be loving. He makes many other points too, or at least asks very many rhetorical questions.
The point I want to make today is that the crucifixion wasn’t cosmic child abuse. In fact, people who say this make at least two major mistakes. The first is that they have a low view of scripture, and the second is that they deny the efficacy, the effect, of what Jesus actually did at the cross. They actually gut the center of the Gospel.
A Low View of Scripture
Now, what do I mean when I say they have a low view of scripture? Well, from scripture they read, and it seems come to believe, that Jesus was innocent, and that the Father sent this innocent man to supposedly die for other people’s crimes.
That’s what they’re enraged about. That’s what they reject. They believe that from scripture, or at least they say they do, but you know what’s interesting is they reject the other parts of scripture that show that Jesus was also fully God, that he was fully willing to die, that it was his plan also from before the foundation of the world. They take the half of scripture they seem to like, or at least reject fully, and they don’t look at the other parts, which contradict or at least give the fuller picture to the first part, that the Father sent Jesus to die on the cross, which is true. They have a low view of scripture. They’re not taking all of it equally seriously.
We’re going to look at many passages, and this is part of what I mentioned earlier in the year, that as Christians we need to be prepared to demonstrate more than the fact that intelligent design is true – there’s a God out there that created everything. We need to be prepared to demonstrate the truthfulness of the Gospel, of the redemption that Christ secured on the cross, of the substitutionary nature of what he accomplished, which we’ll talk about in a minute. Those are really important things.
Sometimes it’s really easy to see the division between Atheism and Christianity, but many times it’s more difficult to see the divisions between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christians, or Roman Catholicism and Christianity, or Mormons and Christians, because many of these issues, in addition to talking about the nature of God and some other things, center on what actually happens at salvation, what’s necessary for salvation, and what did Jesus do at the cross. So, we have to care about those things too. We can’t just care about the age of the Earth, and evolution, and the nature of truth, although all of those are important.
When we come to scripture and we want to see what’s the full picture, let’s not just pick and choose to create a problem, but what does all of scripture say? Well, does it say it was cosmic child abuse? Well, no. In John 10:18, Jesus says, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord, and I have the authority to lay it down, and the authority to take it up again. This is the charge I received from my Father.” Someone’s going to see, “See? His Father sent him.” Well, why does the fact that the Father sent the son preclude the idea that the son also wanted to go? It doesn’t.
Jesus has always planned to go to the cross. The Father has always planned to send Jesus to the cross. There was never a time when these two things were not true. The second point is just as true as the first. Jesus willingly laid down his life of his own accord. Those are his own words recorded in John.
More than that, in John 6:37, he says, “All those the Father give me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away, for I have come down from Heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of Him who sent me, and this is the will of Him who sent me that I shall lose none of those He’s given me, but raise them up at the last day.” As we see from other passages, what’s necessary for Jesus to be able to raise people up in the resurrection when he ultimately comes back and we get our glorified bodies as Christians? What’s necessary for that? Well, he had to first die on the cross. He knows this all the way back then. Even when he says that the temple will be destroyed and he’ll rebuild it in three days, he’s talking about himself. He knew the cross was coming, and he knew he was going to be resurrected.
We can’t say it was an accident. You know, what’s interesting is he didn’t just die on the cross to secure salvation of the people who would come to believe in him. He actually gets praise and glory for this. He gets a name that’s above every name. In Revelation 5:9, we see, “And they sang a new song. Worthy are you to take the scroll and open it’s seals, because you were slain, and by your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe, tongue, and people, and nation.” What did Jesus do? He purchased something.
This is part of the kind of legal, judicial, sometimes trade language used about salvation and sin. We were slaves to sin, and how do you get a slave out of slavery? You purchase them. You redeem them. What did Jesus do? He paid our sin debt on the cross. That’s what this verse speaks of.
What does he get for that? Well, among many things, he’s praised for all eternity. He is the worthy one, because he actually secured salvation. He didn’t die on the cross, as some would say, to just be a sign of how bad people were, or to just somehow take people’s wrath upon himself so we didn’t hurt each other. No. He died to actually accomplish the salvation of everyone who would come to put their faith in him. It’s interesting that this verse does not say he secured salvation for everyone. It says he secured salvation for all types of people, people from every tribe, tongue, and people and nation, not all people in every tribe, and all tongues, and all people, and all nations, but people from those groups. That’s what he did. It had a definite effect.
Another verse from Revelation just makes this picture even more clear. In same chapter, chapter five, verse 13, “And I heard every creature in Heaven, and on Earth, and under the Earth, and in the sea, and all that is in them sang to Him who sits on the throne, and to the lamb, be praise, and honor, and glory, and power forever and ever.”
Why is he called the lamb? This hails all the way back to the Old Testament, where the lamb was what was sacrificed for the sin of the nation of Israel. What was Jesus? He was the lamb that was once for all sacrificed for all sin of those who would come to believe in God. He gets praise and glory for this. What type of child abuse results in praise and glory being given to the abusee? None that I know of.
That’s just another point, that this was the design of God. When we let all of scripture, all of God’s word speak to this issue, we see that the claim of divine cosmic child abuse doesn’t make much sense at all. It actually creates more problems than it solves. One last passage on this section I want to look at is Philippians 2:9, which says, “God exalted him,” that would be Jesus, “to the highest place, and gave him the name above all names. That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in Heaven, and on Earth, and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Why? Because he humbled himself to come to Earth, took on human flesh, not just to walk around and see what it’s like to wear some skin (because he was more than just wearing skin, he was fully human; it wasn’t just like a suit) but the reason he came was to go to the cross. This is where other places in scripture we see that Jesus was the lamb slain before the foundation of the world, not that it had actually happened, but that it was as good as going to happen, because there was no way for it not to happen, because the Father, and Jesus, and the Spirit all planned that Jesus would go to the cross. When we look at all of scripture, and we’ve only looked at a little bit, we see that there are so many points that contradict the idea that it was cosmic child abuse.
A Rejection of Penal Substitutionary Atonement
We should not have a low view of scripture and hold to that, but more than that, what’s at the heart of saying it was divine cosmic child abuse is rejecting the idea that Jesus actually paid for people’s sin. You know what? That’s at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus in my place, as my pastor likes to say. I think that’s a great shorthand, if we’ve got to distill it down like that, because what the Gospel ultimately says is a creator sovereign God created us to live for His glory, and we rebelled and constantly rebel, and He has a penalty for that as a just, holy loving God. What that looks like is death. We see in Romans, “For the wages of our sin, is death.” What is the gift of God, that thing we did not earn? If we come and submit ourselves to Him, and trust in Him, it’s eternal life because of Christ Jesus.
We see other passages that speaks to this. For instance, Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Therefore, since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from wrath through him?”
Justification has a few meanings, but when Paul’s using it here, it speaks to a legal declaration that we have been declared not guilty. You recall earlier we saw that salvation, or at least the crucifixion and what Jesus accomplished, was described as a ransom where he purchased us. Now we’re seeing another aspect, more of a legal, judicial aspect, where at the cross, Jesus provided for us to be declared not guilty of sin because of him.
Well, what does that speak to? He actually died for specific people’s sin. He didn’t die and justify everyone. Everyone’s not set right. He didn’t die and justify no one. It wasn’t just a sign or a symbol. It wasn’t just an accident. No. What did he do? He actually purchased people from every tribe, tongue, language, and people. He justified us. He declared us not guilty because what we would’ve earned was death, and what we were given because of that declaration of innocence is righteousness.
We are credited with the righteousness of Christ. We’re not made righteous, but we’re credited with it as if we were. That’s why when the Father looks at us, if we’re in Christ, if we are Christians, He sees the perfect righteousness of Christ. That’s only because we have been ransomed. So, if you say that the crucifixion was child abuse and you deny that Jesus came to pay for the sin of other people, you have no Gospel. You have no forgiveness of sins. You have no justification. You have no ransom being paid.
That’s not good news. That’s horrible news. You see, we have to look at these connections and look at all of what scripture has to say to come to that conclusion, but that is the correct logical, internally consistent conclusion of denying the substitutionary nature of what Christ did. By substitutionary, I mean Christ in our place. He was our substitute.
When you hear that big fancy theological term “penal substitutionary atonement,” what it’s saying is penal refers to punishment, so Christ was punished as a substitute, and in so doing, he atoned for, he paid for, our sins. He satisfied the wrath of God that we justly deserved for our rebellion against our sovereign creator, and we have been set right with Him.
When we understand some of this, some of the depths of the Gospel, it should fuel our worship. It should fuel our gratitude towards Him. It should encourage us to live more virtuously, to be better people, not somehow to earn this thing, because that should be very obvious, we can’t do that. We couldn’t do that, but out of gratitude for what God has given us. It should also allow us to be equipped to defend the very heart of the Gospel, which is justification by grace through faith. I hope this has been helpful. I hope it helped us all understand the Gospel a little more clearly. I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.