The Severe Judgment of God
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”- 2 Corinthians 5:21
Many theologians have noted how striking it is that the Apostles’ Creed refers to Jesus’ suffering as happening “under Pontius Pilate.” After all, even though Pilate pronounced the final death sentence, he was not the only person responsible for the crucifixion. Judas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, the Roman soldiers, and even the Passover pilgrims all had a hand in our Lord’s death (Matt. 26:47–27:54).
The answer to question 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism deals with the special mention of Pilate in the Apostles’ Creed. Jesus, we read, was “condemned by a civil judge” to “free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.” There was a concurrence between Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus before men and the Father’s judgment of the Son according to His law. Pilate’s sending Jesus to death was an earthly picture of a heavenly reality: God the Father was sending Jesus to death. Yes, our Lord was innocent and Pilate was unjust, concerned only with political expediency (Mark 15:6–15). Still, God, who condemns only the guilty and never compromises justice, worked through Pilate to satisfy His justice. Via Pilate’s sentence, the Father put His Son on the cross to bear His wrath against the sin and guilt of His elect, which were imputed to the innocent Christ. In different ways and for different reasons, God and Pilate caused the same event — the crucifixion. But the difference in their intent means Pilate sinned while God remained holy.
Dr. R.C. Sproul helps us understand how Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus to death demonstrates our Father’s cursing of Christ and our sin according to the Mosaic law (Deut. 21:22–23). He reminds us that “God had shown his covenant power and holiness in the Old Testament by delivering his people either from or into the hands of the Gentiles” (Renewing Your Mind, p. 116). God delivered Jesus into Gentile hands. According to the covenantal curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, the worst thing for the Israelites under the old covenant was to be cast out of the Lord’s blessed presence in Canaan and subjected to the rule of unclean Gentiles. Exile was the just sentence for those who loved their sin and rebellion against God. On the cross, Jesus suffered an earthly exile under the Gentiles — Pilate and the Romans — as well as a heavenly exile into the just and terrible wrath of God.
Ancient Jews who knew their Scriptures understood that Jesus’ crucifixion under the Romans meant that God was subjecting Him to the worst curse imaginable. But He was subjected to this curse because He bore the sin of those who trust in Him. If we trust in Jesus Christ, our sin has been paid for, and we need not fear the ultimate exile of hell. But those who never trust in Jesus will be exiled into hell and the eternal, just wrath of God.
Passages for Further Study
2 Kings 17:7–23