Jesus Became Sin (2 Corinthians 5:21)
2 Corinthians 5:21-“He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (HCSB). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (NASU). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NRSV).
I think it is evident from the reading of these versions that there is nothing stated concerning Jesus dying in our place or become a substitute for us. Rather, the scriptures state that Jesus died “for us,” “for our sake,” and “on our behalf.”
However, this passage is used to show that Jesus literally took his sins on himself on the cross, therefore becoming our substitute. In explaining this passage, Warren Wiersbe in The Bible Exposition Commentary says, “When Jesus died on the cross, all of our sins were imputed to HimÃ¢â‚¬”put to His account. He was treated by God as though He had actually committed those sins. The result? All of those sins have been paid for and God no longer holds them against us, because we have trusted Christ as our Savior. But even more: God has put to our account the very righteousness of Christ!”
Is this what is meant when Paul says that Jesus was made to be sin? Are we to think that Jesus became sin Himself and was treated by God like a sinner? If Jesus was a blemish free, spotless, most holy, and righteous sacrifice, how could He actually and literally be sin or a sinner on the cross? Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus is our high priest who was tempted like us, yet without sin. If Jesus was without sin, how can we say that 2 Corinthians 5 is teaching he had sin? Hebrews 7:26-27 says that Jesus was “holy, guileless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heaven…when he offered up himself.” The writer of Hebrews argued that Jesus did not have sin on him when he offered himself for us on the cross. So how should we understand Pauls words “Jesus was made to be sin?”
The NIV and some other Bible versions have a footnote next to the word “sin” which says, “or to be a sin offering.” The word can either mean “sin” or “sin sacrifice” and this can be seen throughout the scriptures. In Hebrews 10:6-8 we see the same usage: “IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. “THEN I SAID, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.” After saying above, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them” (which are offered according to the Law)…” (NASU). Notice the words “sacrifices” in verses 6 and 8 are italicized in the New American Standard because the original Greek word is not there. The translators added the word “sacrifices” it is implied and is required for understanding the text.
The New Living Translation is correct in its translation of 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” Is there any other reasonable way to understand how Jesus became sin without violating other plain passages of scripture? If sin is on Jesus and he dies with sin on him, do we not realize the consequences of such a proposal? Jesus dying with sin on him means he is not the perfect Lamb of God, but is a broken, blemished lamb that is unacceptable to God. The Old Testament required all sacrifices for sin to be perfect and without blemish. Jesus became the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 7:26-27; 1 Peter 1:18-19) and could not have sin on him to be acceptable to God. Christ is always described as our sin sacrifice and never as our substitute in the scriptures (Hebrews 10:9-10).
Jesus and the Curse (Galatians 3:10-13)
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.” Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”),” (Gal 3:10-13).
Consider the words of J. Gresham Machen from his notes on Galatians: “Here we come to the very heart of Pauls teaching. The curse which Christ bore upon the cross was not a curse that wrongly rested upon Him; it was not a curse pronounced upon Him by some wicked human law. No, it was the curse of Gods law; it was a curse therefore, –we tremble as we say it, but the Scripture compels us to say itÃ¢â‚¬”it was a curse which rightly rested upon Him. But if that be so, there can be no doubt but that the substitutionary atonement is taught in Scripture. The only way in which a curse could rightly rest upon a sinless One is that he was the substitute, in bearing the curse, for those upon whom it did rightly rest. That is the heart of Pauls teaching and the heart of the whole Bible.”
I am stunned that someone would dare say that a curse rightly rested on Jesus. The scriptures do not compel to say this and it is certainly not implied by this passage. Is substitution taught in Galatians 3? The curse that all mankind bears is the curse of the law. The Old Testament offered no method of true forgiveness, for “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins” (Hebrews 10:1-4). Perfect lawkeeping was the demand of the law. Anyone who violated the law became cursed and all people violated the law of God. Therefore, all people bear the curse of the law. Now, carefully read the text. Paul does not say that Christ became a curse in our place nor that Christ bore our curse? How did Christ become a curse for us? The passage does not say by bearing our curse, but that Christ became a curse by being hung on a tree. If we are to say there was a curse placed upon Jesus, we must at least recognize that the curse is not the same curse placed upon all humanity. Our curse was the curse of the law for its violation. If Jesus had a curse, it was not the curse of the law, but the curse of dying on a tree.
But I would like to argue that the text does not say that God cursed Jesus. The “curse” Jesus bore relates to the command given in Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” This is capital punishment for capital crimes. If a man did something deserving of death, he was to be put to death and he was to be hung on a tree for all to see that he is a violator of Gods law. A.T. Robertson in Word Pictures notes an important point: “Quotation from Deut. 21:23 with the omission of hupo theou (by God), since Christ was not cursed by God.” Paul explicitly does not quote the whole sentence of being cursed by God, because Jesus was not cursed by God.
Did Jesus commit sin deserving of death? Absolutely not. Jesus was not a sinner and did not violate any of Gods laws. Jesus death removed the power and authority of the law, thereby removing the curse upon us (Colossians 2:13-14; Ephesians 2:14-16; Hebrews 10:1-10; 8:6-7). In what way did Jesus become a curse for us, according to the text? He became a curse in the fact that he was killed like heinous criminal. Jesus was not cursed by God, but viewed by the people as cursed.
Consider the words of Albert Barnes from his book The Atonement: “But what is its meaning as applied to the Redeemer in the passage now before us? (a.) It cannot mean that he was made a curse in the sense that his work and character were displeasing to God; for, as we have seen, just the contrary doctrine is everywhere taught in the New Testament. (b.) It cannot mean that he was the object of the Divine displeasure, and was therefore abandoned by him to deserved destruction. (c.) It cannot be employed as denoting that he was in any sense ill deserving or blameworthy; for this is equally contrary to the teachings of the Bible. (d.) It cannot mean that he was guilty in the usual and proper meaning of the word, and that therefore he was punished; for this would not be true. (e). It cannot mean that he bore the literal penalty of the law; for, as we have seen, there are parts of that penaltyÃ¢â‚¬”remorse of conscience, and eternity of sufferingÃ¢â‚¬”which he did not, and could not, bear. (f.) It cannot mean that he was sinful, or a sinner, in any sense; for this is equally contrary to all the teachings of the Bible in regard to his character. (g). There is but one other conceivable meaning that can be attached to the passage, and that is that, though innocent, he was treated in his death AS IF he had been guilty; that is, he was put to death AS IF he had personally deserved it. That this is the meaning is implied in the explanation which the apostle himself gives of his own language: –“being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. He was suspended on a cross, as if he had been a malefactor. He was numbered with malefactors; he was crucified between them; he was given up by God and man to death as if he had himself been such a malefactor.”
The Jews considered Jesus guilty, charged him of blasphemy and was therefore worthy of death (Matthew 27:39-43). Jesus did not become a curse in our place. Rather, in the process of becoming our sacrifice for sins which removed our curse, the people perceived Jesus to be cursed by God. Neither 2 Corinthians 5:21 or Galatians 3:10-13 prove that Jesus died in our place. Rather, these passages continue to show Jesus acting as a sin sacrifice to remove our sins.