Tabletalk Subscription
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.You've accessed all your free articles.
Unlock the Archives for Free

Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.

Try Tabletalk Now

Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?

Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.

{{ error }}Need help?

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 hanged on a tree.’”

Theologians have long plumbed the depths of Scripture to understand the nature of the atonement. As they have done so, they have discovered that the Bible tells us many complementary things about our Lord’s death. We have seen, for instance, that Jesus died as a ransom to free us from slavery to sin, Satan, and death (Mark 10:45). Other biblical passages tell us that Jesus’ death and subsequent victory defeated the devil and his minions (Col. 2:15). These truths are too precious to ignore, but we will miss the full significance of the atonement if we neglect another truth about the cross—namely, that Jesus died to bear the curse of God.

When our Creator entered into a relationship with Israel, He did so by means of covenant, promising to be God to His people and demanding their faith and obedience. God gave promises of blessings and curses in His covenant with Israel. The blessings can be summarized as long life in the blessed presence of the Lord. The curses can be summarized as death outside of God’s presence. Keeping the covenant brought blessings; breaking it brought curses. Those who sought the Lord, seeking to obey Him and repenting when they fell short, offering the prescribed sacrifices, were blessed. Those who flagrantly violated the terms of the covenant and remained impenitent were cursed—as individuals they could be cast out of the nation, and as a nation they could be sent out of Canaan into exile (Lev. 24:10–23; 26; Deut. 28). The blessings and curses, as the book of Hebrews indicates, pointed beyond themselves to an even better country for those of faith and an even worse punishment for the impenitent—eternal life for believers, eternal death for those who reject God’s grace.

Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the sins of Israel were to be placed on a goat that was driven outside the camp to its death (Lev. 16). The goat bore the curse of God, but since the blood of bulls and goats cannot truly atone for sin (Heb. 10:4), Jesus came to bear the curse of God in our place. All of us, except Jesus, are covenant breakers who have been cast out of God’s blessed presence. We were ejected from Eden, and Israel repeated Adam’s failure and was cast out of the promised land (Gen. 3; 2 Kings 25:1–21). This curse could be removed only by the Messiah, through His receiving God’s curse on His people so that they would return to His blessed presence. Jesus died as a penal substitute, taking our place under God’s penalty so that we can receive God’s eternal blessings.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

The penal substitutionary view of the atonement that we have looked at in today’s study stands at the center of our salvation. If we reject this view, then we reject the biblical teaching that God’s justice must be satisfied and we end up with an unjust Judge. If God is an unjust Judge, however, He cannot be trusted to always do what is right. By affirming penal substitution, we are affirming that the Judge of all the earth will surely do right.

For further study
  • Deuteronomy 21:22–23
  • Jeremiah 44:22
  • Matthew 8:5–13
  • Hebrews 13:9–16
The bible in a year
  • Daniel 9–10
  • 2 John 1–13

The Atonement and Our Justification

For Whom Did Christ Die?

Keep Reading The Doctrines of Grace

From the December 2023 Issue
Dec 2023 Issue