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How to Respond to: “Why would God punish Jesus for what I did?”

Why Would God Punish Jesus for What I Did
Image Credit: Michael Morse from Pexels

You’re in a conversation and someone says, “Why would God punish Jesus for what I did? It’s barbaric and abusive that He would require a blood sacrifice from his own son for sins Jesus didn’t even commit. It sounds like ‘cosmic child abuse’.” What would you say?

It’s a reasonable question. Imagine your house was burglarized, and after catching the thief and obtaining a confession, the authorities deliver him to a magistrate. On the day of sentencing, as the guilty man awaits his deserved fate, the judge unexpectedly summons one of your neighbors and sentences this innocent man to the penalty the thief deserved. Would it be fair to punish one man for the crimes of another? If not, how can we call God loving and just if He punished His son, Jesus, for our sins? To many, this sounds entirely unfair.

And they’re right.

They are correct about the cruel, injustice Jesus suffered on the cross, but entirely mistaken about the identity of Jesus, the nature of His sacrifice, and the love of God. So, the next time someone says, “The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross sounds like ‘cosmic child abuse’,” here are three things to remember:

First: Jesus was not a mere human
While it would be unfair to punish one man for the crimes of another, Jesus was not a mere man. Instead, the New Testament Gospels and letters describe Jesus as God incarnate. Jesus repeatedly identified himself as God, even calling Himself “I am,” the name God used when identifying Himself to Moses in the Old Testament. Jesus also spoke and taught with the authority of God, and demonstrated His divine power to create, forgive, judge and grant eternal life.[1] That’s why Paul described Jesus as

“…the image of the invisible God… For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16-16)

Jesus even demonstrated He was God by rising from the grave and ascending into heaven. While Jesus raised other humans from death (like the Widow of Nain’s Son, Jairus’ Daughter, and Lazarus), these humans eventually died again. Only Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, never to die again. His Resurrection and ascension demonstrate He is more than a mere human.

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God, according to Christianity, is triune in nature, one being in three persons: God the father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit. This truth is important because it’s impossible to understand what Jesus did for us on the cross if we mistake Jesus for a mere man.

Second: Jesus went to the cross voluntarily
God did not force Jesus to suffer the penalty for other humans. Instead, Jesus voluntarily took the form of a human and chose the path of the cross. Paul wrote that Jesus:

“…emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)

Jesus, as a member of the triune Godhead, voluntarily submitted to the divine plan to rescue us. God did not inflict this plan on Jesus. Instead, all three members of the Godhead acted in perfect unison to accomplish for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. As Paul put it:

“…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

God knew what He was doing when He took “the form of a bond-servant” and reconciled “the world to Himself.” This was not an act of cruelty. It was an act of love, motivated by mercy and grounded in grace. 

Third: The sacrifice of Jesus is not an act of abuse, but a gift of God
When Jesus submitted to the cross, He displayed God’s concern and compassion for us:

“…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

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God was not acting abusively toward Jesus; He was acting lovingly toward us.

Let’s return to that courtroom where the thief who burglarized your home is about to be sentenced. This time the judge, rather than summoning your innocent neighbor, steps down from the bench and approaches the burglar. He tells the thief that he – the judge – will serve the penalty the thief deserves. Then he hugs the pardoned man and tells him he is free to go.

This version of the sentencing hearing sounds even crazier than the first. But it’s not crazy because it’s unfair; it’s crazy because from the thief’s perspective, it’s too good to be true.

That, my friends, is what God did for us on the cross. Our situation is much like that of the thief. We’re fallen, human creatures standing before a perfect, holy Creator. We have repeatedly broken the moral law in one way or the other, in small missteps or broader leaps. We deserve to be punished for our crimes, but our Judge – the Creator of the universe – is willing to step down from the bench in “the form of a bond-servant” to pardon us, taking the punishment we deserve on Himself. That’s not an example of “cosmic child abuse,” it’s a gracious gift from God. We deserve to be punished for our crimes, but our Judge – the Creator of the universe - is willing to take the punishment we deserve on Himself. Click To Tweet

So, the next time someone says, “The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross sounds like ‘cosmic child abuse’,” remember these three things:

First: Jesus was not a mere, human
Second: Jesus went to the cross voluntarily
Third: The sacrifice of Jesus is not an act of abuse, but a gift of God

This script is excerpted from my “What Would You Say” video for the Colson Center

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Written By

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. He holds a BA in Design (from CSULB), an MA in Architecture (from UCLA), and an MA in Theological Studies (from Gateway Seminary).

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Dave

    March 18, 2022 at 3:11 pm

    You said on your website and your videos that you are a “Christian”. If so, then why are you portraying a catholic crucifix on this article? The crucifix insinuates that Jesus is continuously dying for the world’s sins. Jesus will never be crucified again. Any so-called picture or sculpture of God or Jesus is a mockery of God and Jesus. Read, Exodus 20:1-6 please. Are you forsaking Jesus and defecting to Catholicism? Please explain.

    • David James

      March 28, 2022 at 10:40 am

      When someone knows the amount of Bible doctrine that Jim knows, I would be hard pressed to suspect that he’s a Catholic, which I was raised as. I discovered many errors in Catholicism when I attained the age of 20. However, I also discovered many errors in fundamental Christianity, which, although they were not as serious as those in Catholicism, they were serious.

      I believe there will be many Catholics saved, despite the dense errors in the faith, since those who rely on Jesus Christ alone, for salvation and forgiveness of their sins, are found among Catholics and Fundamental Christian faiths, and error exists in both.

      It’s a big subject, so I would state that the question seems misplaced, since no Christian is error-free. As such, I’d tell you that maybe you ought to question the wisdom of calling Jim out, in the first place, unless you don’t know the above basics, and whether or not he’s a Catholic.

      He’s certainly a Christian, regardless, based on what I’ve heard him teach.
      .

  2. Daniel Holmes

    April 14, 2022 at 12:39 am

    Could this not then be interpreted then that God killed himself, not freeing us of our (original) sin but freeing himself from his own (original) judgement of that sin? Resurrected as a God of resurrected values. It would explain why God allowed for man to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, knowing that it would eventually lead to a necessary evolution of both man and Godself.

  3. Jeanne T.

    April 15, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    And how did Jesus answer this question? Here are His own words:

    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:11-18

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