Thursday, April 13, 2017

How A 3-Hour Crucifixion Can Be An Infinite Sacrifice

Jesus bore the wrath of the Father for 3 hours, and this is supposed to equal or exceed the severity of the wrath that God would have poured out on every believer in all of earth's history, had those people suffered for their sins in hell, instead of Jesus taking their place on the Cross. So, how can 3 hours of pain and suffering be an infinite sacrifice, equal to millions of eternities in hell?

I said 3 hours, even though the Crucifixion lasted about 6, but the propitionary, atoning portion of it -- when there were 3 hours of darkness, representing the time at which Father and Son were "spiritually separated" -- was only for the second half of the event. It was not the physical suffering that won our salvation, it was the spiritual separation from God that our sin demands, that Christ suffered for us -- and that is what I will intend to prove in this treatise.

It was written over 2 years ago, but I am pleased to see that there are no major misrepresentations of the Trinity that I committed in an attempt to simplify. No one can ever get it really right, when we try to explain "how He works," but I think my way of thinking about it, here, may be helpful to those who share a very analytical mindset.

Here is the reasoning, first written as an explanation to an atheist why his opinion that 3 hours was "not much of a sacrifice" is mistaken:

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Chris Powers, Full of Eyes. From the All I Have Is Christ animation.

The mistake here is in thinking that physical death is the focus. That's not what the Bible teaches.

Instead it teaches that death is not the cessation of 'life,' but the unnatural separation of a living being from the source of its life. Man-God, Man's body-Man's soul, God-God.

It was not in dying that Jesus did His miraculous deed. That was just the necessary finishing touch, a bit of a technical requirement.

But what He really sacrificed was His relationship to the Father. For 3 hours, He was spiritually separated from the Father and they were not in communion, as they have/are/will be in all other possible places in time and space from eternity past to eternity future.
[editorial addition: It's logical to conclude that, since Jesus never ceased to be God on the Cross, since that would render Him unable to substitute for the sins of all, that Jesus was not separated from the Trinity. It's likely that the nature of the separation involved a complete cessation of communication and affectionate interaction between the Father and Son -- causing pain by way of contrast, to the love that was now not being shared-- whilst the Spirit bridged the two and kept the Trinity intact as a cohesive single being (This in essence placed a division within God Himself -- more elaboration on that below). What an interesting way to think about it, that gives added poignance to the role of the Holy Spirit as One who bridges the gap between sinful men and God, mending the division between us and sustaining our relationship even when we are temporarily separated from fellowship with Him by sin]
For a finite being, dying or suffering can only be experienced to a finite degree. But for an infinite being, He has the capacity to experience an infinite amount of suffering in a finite time (in contrast to finite humans experiencing a finite torment for an infinite time in hell). Therefore, He was able to take the equivalent justice of infinite sentences in hell for all the finite number of individuals who would accept His offer to trade places.

His sacrifice was that He experienced an infinite anguish, as only an infinite being can, and the fact that it was of finite temporal duration is of no consequence.

You could see it, in the sense that all parts of time are always accessible to God, as Him having perfect harmony within Himself (Father-Son-Spirit) whenever He interacts with every portion of time and space on the eternal spectrum,

except one. Because the Crucifixion is not actually "in God's past," because He's eternal, it is essentially a permanent scar on God, that He will never in eternity be able to have communion with His Son in that portion of time and space, such that every time He visits it, which would be an infinite amount in an eternity, He feels the pain of that separation.

That is certainly an infinite sacrifice.


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[And that's the answer to the question of sacrifice. This thought is complete, although if you're interested in reading further, what follows is a related subject, where I addressed misconceptions about what point the Cross has in salvation--basically, how it works.]

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The message is this: God has a holy standard, which is perfection--this is not arbitrary because it is based on His nature, who God is. He coexists perfectly with Himself, but can't coexist with what is antagonistic to Him, not because it would weaken Him, but because in His omnipotence it would be destroyed. Enter the paradox of how sinful people can survive God's presence. His holiness would destroy us or cast us out. So, how to resolve it? We need to somehow be made holy. But our sin debt against Him needs to be paid.

Every sin, even if it is claimed to be finite in temporal effect, is a transgression against an infinitely holy God, and therefore an infinitely evil deed, and worthy of infinite punishment. Finite beings can't satisfy infinite punishments in a temporary time frame but must face finite torment for an infinite time -- hell.

Enter a magnificent solution. Rather than obligate every believer to perform Herculean labors, God offers a great exchange. As an infinite being, He can take the place of a human, live a perfect life and die the death that men deserve. He has the capacity to take the infinite punishment against the infinite God, in a temporally limited engagement.

So He does. Jesus is God in the flesh, who came and lived a perfect life, so that He Himself was guiltless of sin and not worthy of the punishment for sin. So when He died, He offers to take OUR punishment FOR us. Then, with our debt paid, we can't be punished again. It would be double jeopardy to go to hell. We are free to enter heaven not because we are good, but because we are deemed righteous by Jesus' vicarious atonement on our behalf.

image credit: Chris Powers

That's how Jesus' death accomplishes salvation.

And the reason faith is the only way you can receive it is for the reasons described--we can't earn our way to heaven because our evil deeds prevent us. We are utterly dependent on Jesus taking our punishment. And nothing we did contributed to His crucifixion except our sins. So there simply is no room for deeds in salvation. We can only receive forgiveness through the recognition of all I said above, and the sincere belief that it is true, and in the repentance of our sinful nature (we submit it to Him, we turn away from it and strive to live godly lives--not as a prerequisite for salvation, but as an earnest result, a product of salvation. It can't fail to change your life if you believe it, so turning from sin, despite your failure to succeed in it perfectly, is a given, it is expected if you truly love and are grateful to God for what He has done), and in asking Him for forgiveness--to apply our sins to His account, and apply His righteousness to our account. Freely forgiven and esteemed righteous by His works alone, we can enter heaven simply by faith, with no further requirements.

This is the Gospel message.

~ W

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