On the surface the logic of the atonement is straightforward.

We sin and are therefore under God’s wrath. When Jesus died on the cross, he suffered the punishment that sin deserves. If we put our faith in Christ, we have eternal life.

If we dig a little deeper, however, we encounter a perplexing question revealed by two biblical teachings.

These twin truths raise the question: How did Jesus receive the full punishment for sin (eternal damnation) if he didn’t suffer eternally? To answer it, we must ask four additional questions that get at the logic of the atonement.

1. What Is Death? 

2. Why Is Hell Eternal?

Eternal punishment is fitting for at least two reasons. First, God made us to exist forever, so the choice to remain in rebellion and unbelief has eternal consequences. Second, sins committed against an infinite Creator are infinitely grievous. It would therefore seem that, to take our eternal sentence, Jesus would need to be eternally punished. From this we might deduce that either Jesus is still being punished by the Father (which the Bible denies), or his death isn’t sufficient to atone for our sins, since he didn’t receive the eternal punishment we deserve.

There’s a third option.

Sin’s punishment is eternal in relation to time, yet it is also infinite in a qualitative sense. In other words, there’s a temporal component to the punishment for sin as well as a completeness component. Imagine a teacher who punishes a student by making him write “I will not call people names” 100 times. Regardless of whether it takes 30 minutes or three hours, the punishment is not complete until he writes the sentence for the hundredth time. Something similar is going on with the atonement. If we make a distinction between the duration of punishment and the complete pouring out of God’s wrath on sin, we can understand how Christ, an infinite being, took our punishment without spending eternity under God’s wrath.

3. What Is Propitiation?

4. Why Are Sinners in Hell? 

A distinction is needed here. People enter hell because of their choice to sin and refusal to repent; people remain in hell forever because they are sinners. It’s not merely past sin, but also their present attitude that makes hell eternal for sinners. This is the key difference between sinful men and Jesus, the sinless man. He was perfect in every way; therefore, the duration of the punishment didn’t need to be eternal for him to absorb the complete punishment for sin.

The wrath of God was fully poured on Christ—and we shouldn’t think that’s contradicted or negated by the fact it occurred in a finite amount of time. To the contrary, the fact that Christ is no longer under the wrath of God, but seated in glory at his right hand, gives us every confidence that he is our Savior.

Preach the Strange, Logical Gospel

The gospel makes sense. God doesn’t contradict himself or commit logical fallacies in his plan of salvation. And our presentation of the gospel should make sense to our hearers.

The better we understand the logic of the gospel and apply it in our own lives, the clearer we can explain it to others. Of course, not everyone who hears the gospel believes. But everyone who hears it should at least be able to grasp its message.

When we preach the gospel, it may seem strange, offensive, or downright idiotic to our listeners. But it should never be incoherent, self-contradictory, or illogical if we’ve taken the time to meditate on the stunning logic of God’s salvation plan.

First appeared on November 4, 2019 on TheGospelCoalition.com at: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jesus-eternal-punishment-hours/



No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *