“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles ” (Gal. 3:13-14). I distinctly remember hearing an unbelieving co-worker—at a restaurant in which I worked many years ago—say to customers as they left: “Have a blessed day.” Every time I heard it I wanted to say, “But how is that blessing possible?” The language of blessing is used today with little to no understanding of its nature or cost. Galatians 3:13-14 expresses the inner workings of a theology of blessing. How can we receive the spiritual and eternal blessings of God when we are under the curse of His law by nature? In order for us to be justified before God, Christ had to “become a curse for us.” Blessings and curses are found throughout the Bible and ultimately meet together in an unparalleled moment at the cross.
The Lord blessed His image bearers at creation (Gen. 1:28). Immediately after this, He blessed the Sabbath day (2:3)—a day prefiguring the eternal rest and blessing of God. When Scripture says that God declared each creative act to be “good,” it conveys the idea that blessing rested upon a world untouched by sin. The blessings of Genesis 1-2 are, however, starkly contrasted with the curses of Genesis 3. No sooner was the blessing pronounced that our first parents called down curses for themselves, their descendants, and the world in which we live.
When Adam sinned, the Lord cursed the ground from which He made man. Thorns cover the face of the earth. Man must now work the cursed ground, by the sweat of his brow, in order to eat bread. The presence of thorns is a constant reminder of the devastating effects of sin. There is a complete undoing of the blessing of God. Man would return to the ground from which he was made. The Lord, at the beginning, breathed into man’s nostrils the “breath of life.” The curse means the removal of that breath.
The curse was reiterated in temporal and typical forms throughout the history of redemption. Just as Adam and Eve were “cut off” from paradise, God promised to “cut off” the covenant people for disobedience (Num. 15:31). There was a close relationship between the plagues of Egypt and the covenant curses (Deut. 28:21-29, 58-61). The second-to-last plague God sent on Egypt was darkness. This was also a covenant curse promised to Israel (Deut. 28:29). It served as a picture of the “outer darkness” spoken of by our Lord (Matt. 25:30). Whether it was in the plagues that fell on Egypt or the covenant curses promised to Israel (Deut. 27-30), the curse resurfaced as a reminder of the justice of God and the consequences of sin.
In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Paul explains that all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus. This means that the promised blessings are assured to us in Christ, but it also means that Jesus had to say “Yes” to the promised curses to secure those blessings for His people. In Gethsemane, Jesus sweated great drops of blood as He worked for our redemption. Matthew Henry noted:
Sweat came in with sin, and was a branch of the curse, Gen. 3:19, and therefore, when Christ was made sin and a curse for us, he underwent a grievous sweat, that in the sweat of his face we might eat bread, and that he might sanctify and sweeten all our trials to us.
In His sufferings, Jesus wore a crown of thorns—a symbol of the curse. For three hours darkness covered the crucified Lord as He bore the curse and wrath of God for His people. Isaiah prophesied that He would be “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isa. 53:8). As the second Adam, Jesus took the curse upon Himself. He is, in the deepest and most profound meaning of the phrase, “the cursebearer.”
On the cross, Jesus was cursed so that we might be blessed through faith in Him. In His cry, “It is finished” (John 19:30), we are reminded of how, in Genesis 1, the Lord looked over the finished work of creation and said, “It is good (v.12).” Jesus Christ accomplished the work of the new creation in His death and resurrection. The curse was removed. The eternal blessings were secured for those who trust in Him alone for them.
Have you come to realize the just penalty of sin in your life? Are you laboring under the weight of your sin and the reality of the curse? Do you long for a life of blessing and rest? Look in faith to the sinless One who was made a curse for us. As you do, you will be able to say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3).