Were you There, Killing Jesus?

No, you were not. Nor are you now able to impute your sins to Christ. God has already imputed (or not) your sins to Christ. Christ imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, and then Christ died for those sins. This is not bad news. Election is good news, and the gospel should not be changed into a law which accuses you of killing Jesus.

Many religious songs have those who sing them confess themselves as having killed Christ on the cross. But I question this sentimentality. First, if we all all put Christ on the cross, then Christ died for all sinners, and that is the false gospel.

Second, nobody but God has the ultimate power to put Christ on the cross. If we all are supposed to feel bad about crucifying Christ, then is the Tri-une God also to apologise? May it never be! Acts 2:23-24, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

The Bible teaches that God’s sovereignty does not eliminate the accountability of sinners. Certain specific lawless men killed Christ. But also, God gave Christ up to die for the sins of the elect alone. God and not man determined for whom Christ would die.

Christ purposed that He would die. The Trinity purposed that Christ would die. God is Christ. Christ is God.

This does not eliminate the accountability of “the lawless men”, even if they were soldiers, or of the “you” Peter is addressing in Acts 2.

Specific humans 2000 years ago purposed that Christ would die. This means that not all humans purposed that Christ would die. His mother Mary, for example, did not kill or intend to kill Christ.

We did not ourselves put Christ on the cross, because we are not the imputers. We do not get to decide when and if we put our sins on Christ. We do not get the opportunity to contribute our sins so that then Christ contributes His righteousness. Neither election nor non-election is conditioned on our sins.

Although believers are commanded to count what God has already counted, we can never be the original counters.

The cross is not what condemns. Good news for the elect, the gospel is not what condemns the non-elect. Rejecting the cross is not what condemns the non-elect, because we are all already condemned in Adam.

The false gospel which says that Jesus Christ died for every sinner is not gospel. The false gospel turns a supposedly universal death into guilt for those who don’t meet conditions which supposedly make that death effective.

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5 Comments on “Were you There, Killing Jesus?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” If we answer “yes,” we presuppose that we somehow participated in his death, or that in his death Jesus somehow represents us: “We have died with Christ” (Rom 6:8). If we answer “no,” then we were not there: Christ died alone. “He was there, taking our place in our stead” (p.13). In much biblical scholarship, the former answer is widely assumed: on the cross, Christ represents us, but it is a mistake to think that substitution occurs when Jesus dies. While not denying that the Bible can present Christ’s death on the cross as an act of representation, in this slender volume Gathercole sets out to rehabilitate substitution.

    His introduction is devoted to some careful definitions. “I am defining substitutionary atonement . . . as Christ’s death in our place, instead of us. The ‘instead of us’ clarifies the point that ‘in our place’ does not, in substitution at least, mean ‘in our place with us.’ (Jesus was, for example, baptized in our place with us – that is, the baptism was not a substitution.) In a substitutionary theory of the death of Jesus, he did something, underwent something, so that we did not and would never have to do so” (p.15). Again: “Substitution entails the concept of replacement, X taking the place of Y and thereby ousting Y: the place that Y previously occupied is now filled by X. In representation, X in one sense occupies the position of Y, as in substitution. There are differences, however. In representation, X does not thereby oust Y but embodies Y” (p.20). Gathercole provides extensive quotations from Martin Luther, Robert Letham, and Karl Barth “to illustrate this definition” (p.15). Along the way he sketches the relationship between substitution and satisfaction, substitution and penalty, substitution and propitiation, and substitution and representation, partly in order to stipulate that in this “essay” his restricted aim is to defend substitution, not representation, satisfaction, propitiation or anything else – not, as becomes evident, because Gathercole has not thought about these things or is unwilling to defend them, but to keep this work sharply focused.[1]

    Gathercole concludes his introduction by briefly listing and responding to common criticism raised against substitution: it is a legal fiction and an immoral doctrine, surrounded by philosophical, logical, and exegetical difficulties. For example, against the charge that substitution is a form of “cosmic child abuse” (in recent work, think Peter Carnley and Steve Chalke), in which God vents his wrath on his Son, Gathercole responds in several ways. The two most important are these: (1) the charge neglects “the obvious fact that the death of Christ is not that of a third party but is the ‘self-substitution of God’ [to quote John Stott’s expression]. Outside of a context of high Christology or of the doctrine of the Trinity, substitution might of course be open to such charges as those leveled above. But as far as I can see, most theologians seriously advocating substitution also hold to a high Christology” (pp.24-25). (2) In any case, Jesus “offers himself as a sacrifice in line with his own will. . . . (Gal. 1:4; 2:20).”

    The last of these several categories of objections, exegetical challenges to substitution, occupies the first of three numbered chapters after the introduction (pp.29-54). The four exegetical errors on which he focuses are these:

    (1) Representation in the sense of “place-taking,” as in the Tübingen school nicely represented by Hartmut Gese and Otfried Hofius, and, in English, by Richard H. Bell. The focus is on the day of atonement ritual described in Leviticus 16. “The problem [as Gese sees it] is not so much individual transgressions but that the Israelite needs to be rescued from death” (p.31). When the hand is placed on the animal, this does not represent a transfer of sins but an identification with the animal. When the animal dies, “the people symbolically enter into the judgment of death” (p.32). When the blood of the animal is taken into the Most Holy Place, the animal is symbolically bringing the people of Israel into the presence of God with him. In other words, there is no substitution but a form of representation. Gathercole objects, in the first place, to Gese’s interpretation of Leviticus 16. Everything depends on the significance of the hand being placed on the sacrificial animal, but Leviticus 16 says nothing about that: the hand is placed instead on the other animal, the scapegoat – and here it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the scapegoat (the live goat) is a substitute.
    (2) Representation in the sense of “interchange” with Christ, the view of Morna Hooker. She holds that substitution is not only un-Pauline, but that Paul speaks against it. In her view, Jesus does not swap places with his people but “goes to the place where they are and takes them from there to salvation” (p.39). She relies heavily on her distinctive reading of 2 Cor 5:21 and 8:9, and rests on her understanding of union with Christ. Christ enters into the human condition of sin and death, but human beings must also unite with him, and we pass out of death and into resurrection with him. Gathercole acknowledges the importance of the union with Christ theme, but denies that Paul ever criticizes substitution, and insists that a right understanding of what the death of Christ achieves readily embraces substitution. Moreover, the union theme tends to focus on Adamic sin as a whole, but does not really address individual sins.

    (3) Apocalyptic deliverance, not least as articulated by J. Louis Martyn and M. C. de Boer. They hold that human beings do not so much need forgiveness of sins as deliverance from slavery to sin; they appeal to (inter alia) Gal 1:4. Gathercole insists that even if this view is defended from Galatians, it really does not work in Romans, where a major component of sin is personal guilt (e.g., Rom 1-3). Sin may sometimes be presented as a major external cosmic force that Christ overcomes, but even more commonly sin is presented in terms of individual sins and transgressions.

    (4) All three of these views tend to downplay the place of individual sins in Paul’s thought. Gathercole provides an admirable summary of the biblical evidence that refutes the common assumption that “sins” play only a little part in Paul’s thought. He then shows how this evidence shapes our reading of several atonement passages.

    The final two chapters provide detailed exegeses of just two verses: chap 2, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3), and chap 3, treating Romans 5:6-8. As for the former, Gathercole notes that Paul is writing about the matters he views as “of first importance”: Christ died for our sins. He focuses on the phrase “according to the Scriptures”: which Scriptures? Drawing attention to several passages, Gathercole treats Isaiah 53 at length – how it is used in Paul generally, and in particular in 1 Corinthians 15:3. He provides a shrewd and convincing exegesis (pp.61-70). Gathercole also draws attention to several passages where the OT asserts that so-and-so dies for his sins (e.g., Num 27:3; Deut 24:16; Josh 20:22; 1Kg 16:18-19): this use of the preposition hyper (in the Greek translation of these OT passages) does not itself signal substitution, for in these texts the person dies in consequence of his sins. “It is when this is set in the framework of one person doing this for the sins of others (and not for one’s own) that the substitutionary sense is achieved” (p.74). “It is not that huper [sic] in itself has a substitutionary sense; this would in any sense be meaningless, as Christ is not dying in the place of the actual sins but in place of the people who are saved. The substitutionary meaning arises out of the unusual language of one person dying for the sins of others” http://www.reformation21.org/articles/defending-substitution.php

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Acts 9: 3 As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. 4 Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”5 “Who are You, Lord?” he said. “I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting,” He replied.

    Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia,my fellow prisoners. They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles, and they were also in Christ before me.

    Were you there personally be persecuted by Saul? Were you already placed into Christ’s death when Saul persecuted Christians (and thus Christ with these Christians?)

    Some who are now united by election in Christ are not yet united by justification in Christ.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Job 38–Get ready to answer Me like a man;
    when I question you, you will inform Me.
    4 Where were you when I established the earth?
    Tell Me, if you have understanding

    Where is the road to the home of light?
    Do you know where darkness lives,
    20 so you can lead it back to its border?
    Are you familiar with the paths to its home?
    21 Don’t you know? You were already born;
    you have lived so long!
    22 Have you entered the place where the sno
    Or have you seen the storehouses of hail,
    What road leads to the place where light is dispersed?

    Job 9 :11
    If He passes by me, I wouldn’t see Him;
    if He goes right by, I wouldn’t recognize Him.
    12 If He snatches something, who can stop Him?
    Who can ask Him, “What are You doing?”
    14 How then can I answer Him
    or choose my arguments against Him?
    15 Even if I were in the right, I could not answer.
    I could only beg my Judge for mercy.
    16 If I asked for Him and He answered me,
    I do not believe He would pay attention to what I said.
    17 He batters me with a whirlwind
    and multiplies my wounds without cause.
    18 He doesn’t let me catch my breath
    but soaks me with bitter experiences.
    19 If it is a matter of strength, look, He is the Mighty One!
    If it is a matter of justice, who can summon Him?
    20 Even if I were in the right, my own mouth would condemn me; if I were blameless, my mouth would declare me guilty.

    22 It is all the same. Therefore I say,
    “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.”
    23 When disaster brings sudden death,
    He mocks the despair of the innocent.
    24 The earth is handed over to the wicked;
    He blindfolds its judges.
    If it isn’t He, then who is it?
    25 My days fly by faster than a runner;[i]
    they flee without seeing any good.
    26 They sweep by like boats made of paper,
    like an eagle swooping down on its victim
    27 If I said, “I will forget my complaint,
    change my expression, and smile,”
    28 I would still live in terror of all my pains.
    I know You will not acquit me.
    29 Since I will be found guilty,
    why should I labor in vain?
    … You dip me in a pit of mud,
    and my own clothes despise me!
    32 For He is not a man like me, that I can answer Him,
    that we can take each other to court.
    33 There is no one to judge between us,
    to lay his hand on both of us.
    34 Let Him take His rod away from me
    so His terror will no longer frighten me.
    35 Then I would speak and not fear Him.
    But that is not the case; I am on my own.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Even some Lutherans (who all teach that Jesus died for all sinners) have noticed that we have not all sinned in the same way. For example, we did not all kill Jesus. Lutheran Jack Kilcrease writes: “of the whole human race, only a very small number was actually present at the crucifixion. To say to a sinner that, hypothetically, he would have killed Jesus may very well be true, but it does not solve the problem of how this sinful attitude is manifest in the sinner’s own life….Such a hypothetical makes one’s sin into an abstraction…by exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead

  5. markmcculley Says:


    In the course of his excellent critique of Forde’s view of law (and atonement) on p170, Kilcrease makes a point I like to make against all those sentimental hymns (Paul Gerhardt is not the only one) which accuse Christians of having “killed Jesus”.

    Forde of course denies that God the Trinity killed Jesus and says “we did it”. But God did, and some humans did. Unlike Lutherans, I would say that we didn’t all kill Jesus because Jesus didn’t die for everybody’s sins.

    “by exercising a kind of purely civil righteousness, the sinner might very well have not wished Jesus dead….’

    mark: Exactly so, and notice that he didn’t have to call it a good work to say this, didn’t even have to say ‘common grace”, didn’t have to say “covenant creature”!!!!

    “purely civil righteousness”

    yes, it’s an abstraction, but an interesting theory….

    Not all sin is unbelief of the gospel. Not all sin is works-righteousness.

    But sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who never hear the gospel.

    And sin against God’s law is still sin, even for those who are justified and who will never be condemned because of that sin.

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