The Curse of the Cross

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13).

- Galatians 3:10–14

Our look at the atonement of Jesus yesterday reminded us that without an adequate understanding of the Old Testament, we cannot really understand all that took place on the cross. Today we will look again at how Christ’s death on the cross fulfills the demands of the Law.

In Galatians 3:13, we read that Jesus became a curse for us on the cross. The stipulations of the covenant give us the background for understanding this curse. Under the Mosaic covenant, indeed, under every covenant, there are blessings promised for obedience and curses promised for disobedience. The greatest blessing the people of God could hope for under the old covenant was the direct vision of God Himself. This vision is called the beatific vision, and it remains the greatest blessing for believers under the new covenant. We see the hope for the beatific vision in Numbers 6:22–27 where God tells the priests to pronounce blessing upon the Israelites. The parallelism between the Lord blessing His people in verse 24 and the hope that God would lift His countenance upon His people in verse 27 tells us that the greatest blessing a person could receive would be the direct experience of God.

If the greatest blessing a person could hope for is the direct experience and vision of God’s glory, then the greatest curse one could ever receive would be found in being cut off from such a vision. Nothing could be worse than being cut off from the merciful presence of God, finding oneself in the presence of His wrath. This eternal damnation by God is foreshadowed by the curse of exile in the Old Testament and revealed clearly by the teachings about hell in the New Testament.

This is the curse that Christ bore for us. On the cross, He was forsaken by the Father and sent into the outer darkness, away from the merciful presence of God. This experience is deeply mysterious and no one can plunge its depths fully. However, we must not think that on the cross the ontological unity between the divine Father and the divine Son was separated. To say this would be to introduce a change into the being of God.

Still, on the cross, Jesus was actually forsaken by the Father. Perhaps we can explain this by saying that, on the cross, the Father’s wrath was poured out upon the Son in such a way that it interrupted their fellowship. This disruption was so awful that it brought fear to Jesus on the eve of His execution and caused His lament on the cross (Matt. 27:46).

Coram Deo

We deserve the curse. We deserve to be cut off from the merciful presence of God. Our want of conformity and transgression of the Law brings the curse on our heads. But that curse has been borne for us. Christ was cast out into the darkness so that we do not have to be. If you are in Christ, you need not fear being forsaken by the Father.

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 29
Isa. 53:8
Lam. 5
Matt. 24:45–51
Col. 2:13–15

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343