Sunday, December 7, 2014

Did Jesus take our punishment?

Torture. Forever. Torment. Forever. Consciously suffering. Forever and ever and ever. Can any human really fathom that? Believe me, I've tried. It will actually make you insane if you try for too long. When men and women teach and preach eternal conscious torment, I wonder if they have really pondered the reality of what they are saying?

When I really weigh Scripture and the character of Jesus, this whole idea of God tormenting humans without letting them die - for all eternity - sounds so very wrong. Just wrong. And, yes, I realize that our understanding and our reasoning falls short in many ways. But, as my husband says, our sense of justice comes from a Source. God promised to write His laws on our heart. He promises us His Holy Spirit who can 'lead us into all truth'. Should we discount the sense of wrong and the mountain of evidence (from God's word) that says He doesn't torture His created ones forever? Take, for example, the teaching that Jesus took the punishment we deserve.

I hear it over and over. “Jesus took your place – he took the punishment that YOU deserve so when you believe in Him, you won't have to pay that price. He paid it on the cross.”

I wonder if those who teach this really believe it. Why? Because I also know that there is another popular teaching that says if you reject Jesus (some say even if you never heard of Him) you will be thrown into hell, which is eternal conscious torment. If you die without Jesus then the consequence is... you go to hell to suffer forever. End of story.

I don't agree with the popular idea about hell, of course, but I do try to understand the teaching and why folks hold to that belief. So, my brain is having a hard time reconciling these two teachings. If Jesus took our punishment, then what was the punishment? Let's take a look at some Scripture.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:8

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” - 1 Thess. 5:10

Thank you, Lord and Savior! I just breathed a huge sigh of thankfulness and relief as I once again realize how my Savior died for me while I was still a sinner. I didn't have to go get cleaned up first. The Bible says, “while we were God's enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son...” (Rom. 5:10).

What other punishment did Jesus suffer for us? We can discover this through the famous passage in Isaiah 53:
Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all... He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished.... Yet it was the LORD's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer... He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

“He made intercession for the transgressors.” That's us – the sinners. I picture the Man stepping in front of me to intercept an arrow that was screaming towards my own heart. Instead of death [the death I deserved] - this righteous, innocent Man took the pain, the suffering and the death that was mine. The Scriptures describe this as God's love. “For God so loved the world...” Perfectly executed to perfectly save us. That thought is so captivating that I am losing sight of my point. No matter, God's love is always the point!

Ok, having let that sink in for a bit, I am coming back to my original questions. So, Jesus took my place. He took my punishment. He died for me. Got it. So, where does the fiery, forever tormenting hell come in? If Jesus took my punishment for sin and I have been “saved”, what have I been saved from?

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

...offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life...” Rom. 6:13

We know that we have passed from death to life...” 1 John 3:14

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction... I have set before you life and death... Now choose life...” Deut. 30:15,19

Where does it ever say that Jesus saves us from hell [eternal conscious torment]? He saves us from death, yes. He rescues us from God's wrath, yes. From destruction and perishing, yes. Where do the traditional hell ideas come from - Scripture or tradition?

Does the Bible teach “choose Life or be tormented forever”? That is an honest question. As sinful mortals we should tremble at the thought of eternal torture. Give some thought to it.

Ask yourself: Will this Jesus, who died a horrible death in our place, really choose to torment millions of His creations throughout eternity?

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I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!