3 Dec 2013 by Rev. Dr. Steven Kau –
The heart of the matter centers on Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
In what sense did Jesus become “sin on our behalf?” Does that phrase mean that Jesus literally became a sinner on the cross? There are some today who teach that Jesus became a sinner (or took on a sin nature) at the cross. Benny Hinn is one such advocate. In a TBN broadcast, Hinn exclaimed:
“He (Jesus) who is righteous by choice said, ‘The only way I can stop sin is by me becoming it. I just can’t stop it by letting it touch me; I and it must become one.’ Hear this! He who is the nature of God became the nature of Satan when he became sin!” (Benny Hinn, Trinity Broadcasting Network, December 1, 1990)
Another preacher, Kenneth Copeland echoes those same teachings.
“How did Jesus then on the cross say, ‘My God?’ Because God was not His Father any more. He took upon Himself the nature of Satan.” (Kenneth Copeland, “Believer’s Voice of Victory,” Trinity Broadcasting Network, April 21, 1991)
But do such assertions like these accurately reflect Paul’s teaching that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf?” To come back to the original question: “Did Jesus become the literal embodiment of sin, or take on a sin nature, the nature of Satan or become a sinner when He died at Calvary? My answer to that question is a resounding no.
Here Are Five Reasons Why:
1. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul declares that Jesus “knew no sin.” Whatever the rest of the verse means, it must be interpreted in light of Paul’s statement that Jesus “knew no sin,” meaning He had no personal experiential knowledge of sin in any way. If Jesus became a sinner or took on a sin nature (or nature of Satan) then Paul would have contradicted himself in that very verse.
2. The rest of Scripture makes it clear that the Lord Jesus remained perfectly sinless, righteous and obedient throughout His entire Passion. At no point did He ever become less than perfectly holy. Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:21 must be interpreted in light of the whole witness of Scripture. Below is a sampling of biblical passages that make this point explicit.
a) Isaiah 53:10-11 –“But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, he will prolong His days and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of his soul, He will see it and be satisfied; by His knowledge the righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as he will bear their iniquities.”
Comments: The Suffering Servant is called the “Righteous One” even in the context of bearing the sins of others.
b) Luke 23:47 – “Now when the Centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God saying, ‘Certainly this man is innocent.’
Comments: The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record the centurion’s comment. As the centurion rightly understood, Jesus remained innocent throughout His crucifixion.
c) Romans 5:19 – “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.”
Comments: Jesus’ death on the cross was an act of obedience, such that His righteousness is imputed to those who believe in Him.
d) Philippians 2:8 – “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Comments: In His death, Jesus remained perfectly obedient.
e) Hebrews 4: 15 – “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.”
Comments: In this passage, the author of Hebrews is focusing on Jesus’ work of redemption (as our great High Priest). Even in the act of redemption, He was always without sin.
f) Hebrews 9:13-14 – “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to god, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Comments: The author of Hebrews emphasizes that even in His death, Jesus offered Himself to God without blemish.
g) 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of lie inherited from your forefathers but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
Comments: Speaking of Christ’s death, Peter emphasizes that He was the spotless Lamb. (John 1:29) There was no sinful blemish in Him at any point.
h) 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
Comments: Peter explicitly states that Christ (the just) died for (the unjust). If Jesus became a sinner (with the nature of Satan as Hinn and Copeland says) how could He still be called “just” or “righteous?”
i) 1 John 3:5 – “You know that he appeared in order to take away sins and IN HIM THERE IS NO SIN.”
Comments: It is difficult to see how anyone could force John’s statement in this verse to fit the notion that Jesus became a sinner on the cross and worse with the nature of Satan. Even in the act of taking away sin, there was still no sin in Him.
Based on the above passages, we can safely determine what 2 Corinthians 5:21 does not mean. It cannot mean that Jesus became unrighteous or that He became a sinner or that He took on a sin nature or nature of Satan or that He literally embodied sin.
So Then What Does It Mean?
The best way to understand Paul’s statement (that Jesus became sin on our behalf) is in terms of imputation. Our sin was imputed to Christ, such that He became a substitutionary sacrifice or sin offering for all those who believe Him.
As John MacArthur explains in The Macarthur Study Bible:
“God the Father using the principle of imputation, treated Christ as if he were a sinner though He was not and had Him die as a substitute to pay the penalty for the sins of those who believe in Him. (Isaiah 53:4-6; Galatians 3:10-13; 1 Peter 2:24) On the cross, He did not become a sinner (as some suggest) but remained as holy as ever. He was treated as if He were guilty of all the sins ever committed by all who would ever believe, though He committed none. The wrath of God was exhausted on Him and the just requirement of God’s law met for those whom He died.”
This view explains Paul’s use of the Greek word hamartia (sin) which was often used in the Septuagint (the Greek Version of the Old Testament) to mean “sin offering.” For example in Leviticus 4-6, the Septuagint uses the word hamartia more than 20 times to translate the Hebrew concept of sin offering. Paul’s frequent use of the Septuagint means he would have been familiar with using hamartia in this way.
Furthermore, this view fits with what the rest of the Scriptures teach about Christ’s death and the doctrine of imputation. Here are a few more biblical passages to make the point.
a) Isaiah 53:6 – “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.”
Comments: This verse does not teach that the Suffering Servant would become a sinner but rather that the sins of others would be imputed to Him.”
b) 1 Peter 2:22-24 – “He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, he uttered no threats but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously and he Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”
Comments: Peter again expresses the point that Jesus was sinless, even in His Passion. Moreover, Peter articulates the fact that on the cross Jesus bore our sins as our substitutionary sacrifice.
Based both on Paul’s use of the Septuagint and on other passages that describes the death of Christ, it is best to understand Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:1 as a reference to the imputation of our sins to Christ, such that He bore our sins as a substitutionary sacrifice on the cross.
It should be noted that if Jesus took on a sin nature (and horrors of horrors – the nature of Satan) or became a sinner on the cross, He would no longer have been an acceptable sacrifice. As Moses recorded in Leviticus 22:20, “Whatever has a defect, you shall not offer, for it will not be acceptable for you.” The analogy, fulfilled perfectly in the Lamb of God, necessitates that Jesus remained spotless even in His sacrificial death.
Finally, on a theological level, the idea that God the Son even temporarily became a sinner, or the embodiment of sin, raises serious questions about the unchangeableness of His holy character and perfect nature. Those who would twist 2 Corinthians 5:21 to claim that Jesus’ perfect nature was momentarily replaced by a sin nature or nature of Satan, raises unanswerable theological questions about the immutability of Jesus Christ.
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