How Did Jesus Become a Curse on the Cross?

A.W. Pink

At the cross all our sins were laid upon Christ and therefore divine judgment fell upon Him. There was no way of transferring sin without also transferring its penalty. Both sin and its punishment were transferred to the Lord Jesus. On the cross Christ was making propitiation, and propitiation is solely Godwards. It was a question of meeting the claims of God’s holiness; it was a matter of satisfying the demands of His justice. Not only was Christ’s blood shed for us, but it was also shed for God: He "gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:2). Thus, it was foreshadowed on the memorable night of the Passover in Egypt: the lamb’s blood must be where God’s eye could see it - "When I see the blood, I will pass over you!"

The death of Christ on the cross was a death of curse: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree" (Galatians 3:13). The "curse" is alienation from God. This is apparent from the words which Christ will yet speak to those that shall stand on His left hand in the day of His power - "Depart from me, you cursed," He will say (Matthew 25:41). The curse is exile from the presence and glory of God.

This explains the meaning of a number of Old Testament types. The bullock that was slain on the annual Day of Atonement, after its blood had been sprinkled upon and before the mercy-seat, was removed to a place outside the Camp" (Leviticus 16:27), and there its entire body was burned. It was in the center of the camp that God had his dwelling-place, and exclusion from the camp was banishment from the presence of God. Thus, it was, too, with the leper. "All the days that the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" (Leviticus 13:46) - this was because the leper was the embodied type of the sinner. Here also is the anti-type of the "brazen serpent." Why did God instruct Moses to set a "serpent" on a pole and bid the bitten Israelites look upon it? Imagine a serpent as a type of Christ the Holy One of God! It represented him as "made a curse for us," for the serpent was the reminder of the curse. On the cross then Christ was fulfilling these Old Testament foreshadowings. He was "outside the camp" (compare Hebrews 13:12) - separated from the presence of God. He was as the "leper" - made sin for us. He was as the "brazen serpent" - made a curse for us. Hence too, the deep meaning of the crown of thorns - the symbol of the curse! Lifted up, his brow encircled with thorns, to show he was bearing the curse for us.

Adapted from The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, 4. The Word of Anguish, by A.W. Pink.

Originally published September 15, 2010.