“Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil”
What really happened at the crucifixion?
Did God the Father – as is commonly taught – transfer to Jesus the guilt of our sins, and then reject and slay Him, pouring out His infinite wrath upon His own Son? Is it true that the Father cannot look upon nor be touched by sin, and thus was forced to turn His back as Jesus bore it all – every sin that had been committed, and would ever be committed? And was Jesus experiencing the ultimate agony of being separated from the Father when He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Is that really what happened?
Billions of people have been led to believe that is what happened. This version of the crucifixion story, or something much like it, is almost universally taught and accepted in mainstream Christianity. But is true? Or is it possible that all these people have been deceived?
Satan the Devil is the master of deception. He deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). And often he does so in such a way that places what rightfully belongs to him onto the backs of others. It's similar to the psychological phenomenon known as projecting.
For example: Satan has convinced billions in mainstream Christianity that the fate of the unsaved is to be tormented forever in hell fire; but actually that is his fate. An objective reading of the Scriptures reveals that the fate of unrepentant sinners is not eternal life in hell, but death. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel ). “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans ). The wicked will be burnt up, and will be ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi 4:1-3). In reality, the fate of eternal torment in hell fire belongs to the Devil.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Revelation ).
Is it possible that Satan has done the same thing with the crucifixion story? Has he deceived the world into thinking that what belongs to him, God put on Jesus? Does the guilt for the sins of all mankind belong to Jesus, or does it belong to Satan?
Transfer of Guilt?
The popular belief is that God took the guilt for the sins of mankind and transferred it to Jesus. But how is that possible? Guilt, by definition, is non-transferable.
Guilt is defined as the state of having committed an offense. It means you did it. It is the opposite of innocence. A man is either guilty or innocent. He either sinned or he didn’t. And if he didn’t sin, then he cannot be guilty.
In our man-made, so-called justice systems, judges and juries sometimes convey a guilty verdict upon an innocent man. But when that happens it doesn’t make the innocent guilty. It is simply a miscarriage of justice. Sometime it happens out of ignorance, and sometimes it happens as the result of corruption. But God is neither ignorant nor corrupt.
There are no miscarriages of justice in God’s court. God is a righteous judge. He is a God of justice. “Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face” (Psalm 89:14). God will not convey a guilty verdict upon a righteous man.
That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25).
God demanded that the judges of
…they [the judges] shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked (Deuteronomy 25:1).
And He condemns those who pervert judgment.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!... Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him! (Isaiah 5:20, 23).
Does God require human beings to live up to a higher standard than He requires of Himself? Absolutely not! Jesus tells us that judgment is one of the weightier matters of the law (Matthew ). And yet the churches tell us that God is a corrupt judge. They say that in order to extend mercy to the billions who have sinned, He was forced to pervert judgment by declaring His innocent Son to be guilty. But Jesus said:
…if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless (Matt. 12:7).
Made To Be Sin For Us
But what about passages like 2 Corinthians and Isaiah 53:6? Don’t they prove that Jesus bore the guilt of our sin? Let’s take a look.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. ).
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
Yes, Jesus was made to be sin for us; and, yes, God laid on Him our sins. But what does that mean? Are these passages to be taken in a literal sense? Was Jesus literally changed into sin; and did God literally place our sins on His back?
Sin is an action (1 John 3:4, sin is the transgression of the law); or it is the idea of that action. A person cannot literally be transformed into an action or an idea. Nor can a person literally have an action or idea placed on his back. So, clearly, these passages are metaphors.
A metaphor is a figure of speech. For example, the phrase, “You’re pushing my buttons,” does not imply the existence of any literal buttons, or even any literal fingers doing any literal pushing, for that matter.
So what do the metaphors in 2 Corinthians and Isaiah 53:6 mean? Clearly, something of sin was applied to Jesus. But what was that something? Was it the guilt for our sin? Or was it the penalty for our sin?
The only answer that makes any sense is that Jesus bore the penalty for our sin.
He cannot be made guilty for our sin. He has committed no sin. Nor does He play any part in the sins we commit. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James ).
But Jesus can step forward and volunteer to take upon Himself the penalty for our sin. That is how Jesus was “made to be sin” for us, and how God “laid on Him” our sin. He paid the penalty for sin in our place.
A Human Analogy
In our justice system here in the
In the trial phase of God’s court, we have all been found guilty. “For all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23). And because we were found guilty, we were all given the death penalty in the sentencing phase. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans ).
Imagine now that you have been convicted of a crime. You rob banks for a living, and you got caught. You were arrested, and tried, and found guilty of armed robbery, a crime which carries a penalty of up to twenty-five years in prison. And you’re about to be sentenced.
To continue the analogy, now imagine that someone volunteers to take your place. If a third party came forward and volunteered to serve your prison sentence for you, and if the judge allowed it, you would go free and have a chance to straighten out your life and quit robbing banks.
But the person who sacrificed himself to set you free would not be found guilty. He didn’t rob the bank, or have any part in it. He’s just serving your sentence. You were found guilty, but he is paying your debt to society, so you’re free to go, as if you hadn’t committed the crime at all. That’s what Jesus has done, and will do, for us (when we repent of sin).
Satan Is An Accomplice
Satan is responsible for introducing sin into the world. Sin entered the world through Adam (Romans ), and it was the Serpent -- who is Satan (Revelation 20:2) -- that influenced Adam to sin. He got to Adam through his wife, Eve, and thereby became an accomplice to mankind’s first sin (Genesis 3:1-6).
And Satan is an accomplice to every sin that has been committed since then. Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” because his spirit permeates the whole world. Like air, it is invisible, but nonetheless it is a very real power to sway the minds of men to commit sin.
Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2).
Paul calls those who live a life of sin “the children of disobedience,” implying that they are the spiritual offspring of Satan. Elsewhere, other passages are more direct, plainly identifying Satan as the father of sin and the spiritual father of those who commit sin.
He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning… In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God… (1 John 3:8, 10).
Ye do the deeds of your father… Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John , 44).
Satan is an accomplice to, and has conspired in, every sin ever committed by mankind. And just as an accomplice to a crime can be found guilty in a court of law the same as if he were the one who actually committed the crime; Satan is guilty. He bears guilt for the sins of the whole world.
Satan Bears His Own Guilt
Satan’s guilt is pictured in the Atonement ceremony God gave to the ancient nation of
Once each year at the Atonement ceremony, the high priest cast lots upon two goats. The goat upon which the Lord's lot fell was slain as a sin offering (Leviticus 16: 5-9). The other goat was led away into the wilderness after having the sins of the people confessed over it and placed on its head! (verses 10, 20-21).
Clearly the goat that was sacrificed represented Jesus. That fact, to my knowledge, is not disputed by any Bible scholar. And just as clearly, the blood of that goat was shed to symbolize the payment for the penalty of sin. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).
But the other goat, the live goat, wasn’t slain. It did not bear the penalty of sin for the people. But it was led away into the wilderness where it bore the “all the iniquities” of the people (verse 22). If this goat was not made to bear the penalty of sin, then what of sin did it bear? Obviously, it bore guilt for the sins of the people.
So why would anyone think that Jesus bore the guilt for our sins? Plainly, the guilt was born, not by the goat that was slain as a sin offering, but by the live goat. If this live goat pictured Satan, as many Bible scholars believe, then anyone who believes that Jesus bore the guilt for our sin is faced with a major problem. Some theologians attempt to get around this problem by claiming that both goats represented Jesus.
But where in the symbolism that was acted out with the live goat is there anything of Christ? Clearly, the slain goat is a picture of Jesus’ death. So does the live goat represent the life of the risen Christ? If so, how can being led out to solitary exile in the wilderness represent the risen Christ in heaven sitting at the right hand of the Father? Was God’s throne symbolized by a wilderness? No! God's throne was symbolized by the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies.
Is Christ in exile? No! Satan is the one who will be exiled. The exile of the live goat in the wilderness symbolized Satan’s future. In the book of Revelation we read that at the end of this age Satan will be bound and cast into a bottomless pit, where he can no longer influence people to sin (Revelation 20:1-3).
And who took the blood of the slain goat to the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies as a type of the risen Christ taking His own blood to God’s throne in heaven (Hebrews 9:7-12)? Did the live goat do this? No, it was the high priest who did this. HE represented the risen Christ in the Atonement ceremony. So how can the live goat represent the risen Christ? Clearly, it cannot!
And if both goats represented Jesus, then why was Aaron required to cast lots to determine which goat was for the Lord? If they both represented the same Messiah, Aaron could have chosen either goat for the sacrifice. It wouldn’t have mattered. But Aaron could not choose. God had to show him which goat was to be slain as the sin offering.
The advocates of the “both goats are Jesus” theory see the identical appearance of the two goats as proof that they are correct. But in fact it is actually a strong indicator that the live goat represented not Jesus, but Satan. Scripture tells us that “Satan himself is transformed as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians ). In other words, Satan makes himself to look righteous. The human eye could not see the difference between the two goats. But God doesn’t see as we do.
But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature ...for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16.7).
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment (John 7.24)
The two goats looked the same because Satan is a counterfeiter. He dresses up his false religions, and disguises his false ministers, to look like the real thing (2 Corinthians -15). He even quotes Scripture (Matthew 4:6). Amidst the religious confusion of Satan’s counterfeits, God must show us the truth by His Spirit (John ). That is why the two goats looked the same. God had to show Aaron which goat was to represent Jesus, and which goat was to represent Satan.
The goat that represented Satan bore guilt for sin. It had the sins of the people confessed over it, and placed on its head to symbolize Satan’s guilt as an accomplice in every one of our sins. Our guilt is NOT, as some have thought, transferred from us to Jesus, and then eventually placed on Satan.
No, God does not take OUR guilt and put it on Satan's head. Guilt is not transferable. Satan bears his OWN guilt. Satan's guilt for his part in our sins is put on his head because, as an accomplice to our sins, he's just as guilty for our sins as we are.
Can God Look Upon Sin?
What about the idea that God the Father turned His back on Jesus as He endured the final agonizing moments of the crucifixion? The popular teaching is that the Father cannot look upon, nor be touched by sin, and thus was forced to turn His back as Jesus bore the sins of all humanity.
First of all, let’s be clear about what this popular teaching implies. It implies that the Father is more righteous than Jesus. According to this teaching, the Father cannot be in the presence of sin or be in contact with sinful beings; but we know that Jesus had contact with sinful people. In fact one of the criticisms voiced against Jesus was that he kept company with sinners. But the Father supposedly cannot even look upon sin. Where does this idea come from?
To support this idea, some will quote from Habakkuk 1:13, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity.” At first glance this may seem a plausible support for the idea that God cannot look upon sin, but in fact it does not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny.
This passage is probably not even talking about the Father. In recent years it has become more widely recognized that the God of the Old Testament was the One who became Jesus Christ. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 10:4 and John 5:37 indicate that the God Being known to the Old Testament Israelites was none other than the Word, who later was born as the human Jesus (John 1:14). Thus, it is unlikely that Habakkuk is talking about the Father.
But even if Habakkuk is speaking of the Father, it does not mean that God cannot, or does not, look upon sin. People often quote from this verse, but they don’t often quote the whole verse. Notice the rest of the verse:
Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look upon iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?
So God does look at “them that deal treacherously.” This verse does not mean that God does not see people in the act of sinning. Rather it means that He does not turn a blind eye to sin. He does not condone sin.
The fact that God can be in the presence of sin should be obvious from the book of Job. Satan, we are told, presented himself to God, and they had a conversation about Job (Job 1:6-12).
Clearly, the idea that God cannot look upon sin is not supported by Scripture. And neither is the idea that God the Father is too righteous to look upon or be in the presence of sin, but that Jesus can both look upon and be in the presence of sin. The Father is not more righteous than Jesus. Jesus and the Father share the same Spirit and mind. Jesus said, “I and my Father are one,” and “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
Why Have You Forsaken Me?
Moments before His death, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Jesus’ words are commonly interpreted as an expression of shocked surprise and pain as He (supposedly) experienced not only the weight of every sin ever committed, but also the ultimate agony of being separated from the Father.
But is that the correct interpretation? Or is it possible that Jesus’ words were meant to convey an entirely different meaning?
Consider the fact that Jesus sacrifice was planned thousands of years in advance (1 Peter ; Revelation 13:8). Consider also the fact that Christ inspired the prophecies of His crucifixion to be written in great detail. It is unlikely that Jesus was surprised by anything that happened to Him.
If in fact Jesus was not surprised by anything that happened to Him; and if in fact God did not make Jesus guilty for the sins of all mankind; and if in fact God did not turn His back on Jesus, then why did Jesus say those words?
Jesus’ words are actually a quote from the book of Psalms.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (Psalm 22:1)
Jesus quoted word for word the opening phrase of Psalm 22, a Psalm which contains a detailed prophecy of His death.
All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him (7-8).
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture (14-18).
Is it possible that Jesus spoke these words as a witness that His crucifixion was the fulfillment of prophecy? Most of the people who watched Him die that day assumed that His death was proof itself that He was not the Messiah. They were looking for a physical King who would save them from the Romans and set up a physical kingdom. They did not understand that the Messiah was sent for the very purpose of giving His life.
They did not understand, but were familiar with, Psalm 22. The same people who jeered at Him that day, saying, “If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him,” were people who had read the Psalms. It seems very likely that Jesus quoted Psalm 22 to them as a way of saying, “Have you not read?” Or to put it another way, He was saying to them, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your sight.”
In the beginning of this essay I asked the question, “Is it possible that Satan has…deceived the world into thinking that what belongs to him, God put on Jesus?” When I read what Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant movement, wrote on this subject, I have no doubt which spirit is the source of the popular teaching on this subject. Luther wrote (emphasis mine):
And this, no doubt, all the prophets did foresee in spirit, that Christ should become the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, rebel, and blasphemer, that ever was OR could be in the world. For he being made a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world is not now an innocent person and without sins; is not now the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; but a sinner which hath and carrieth the sin of Paul, who was a blasphemer, an oppressor, and a persecutor; of Peter, which denied Christ; of David, which was an adulterer, a murderer, and caused the Gentiles to blaspheme the name of the Lord; and, briefly, which hath and beareth all the sins of all people in his body: not that he himself committed them, but for that he received them, being committed or done of us, and laid them upon his own body, that he might make satisfaction for them with his own blood.
If thou wilt deny him to be a sinner and accursed, deny, also, that he was crucified and dead. But if it is not absurd to confess and believe that Christ was crucified between two thieves, then it is not absurd to say that he was accursed, and of all sinners, the greatest (Luther on the Galatians, pp. 213-215 London edition, 1838).
Albert Barnes, in his famous commentary, Barnes Notes on the New Testament, had this to say about Martin Luther’s remarks (emphasis mine):
Jesus was not sinful, or a sinner, in any sense. He did not so take human guilt upon him, that the words sinful and sinner could with any propriety be applied to him. They are not applied to him any way in the Bible; but there the language is undeviating. It is that in all senses he was holy and undefiled. And yet language is often used on this subject which is horrible and only a little short of blasphemy, as if he was guilty, and as if he was even the greatest sinner in the universe. I have heard language used which sent a chill of horror to my heart; and language may be found in the writings of those who hold the doctrine of imputation in the strictest sense, which is only a little short of blasphemy.
[Luther’s] sentiments led him to use language which is little less than blasphemy. Indeed, we cannot doubt that if Luther had heard this very language used by one of the numerous enemies of the gospel in his time, as applicable to the Saviour, he would have poured out the full torrent of his burning wrath, and all the stern denunciations of his most impassioned eloquence, on the head of the scoffer and the blasphemer. It is singular, it is one of the remarkable facts in the history of mind, that a man with the New Testament before him, and accustomed to contemplate daily its language, could ever have allowed himself to use expressions like these of the holy and unspotted Saviour (Barnes notes on the New Testament, Galatians 3:13).
Well said, Mr. Barnes, well said.