Expiation, Propitiation, And The Atoning Work Of Christ (III)

Objection # 1

Those who reject the vicarious (substitutionary) death of Jesus are known to ask the following question: “How is it that the same Jesus who was resurrected and now sits at the right hand of the Father on high could have paid the penalty all of us sinners so rightly deserve, which is eternal death or damnation?” They usually follow this up with, “Are you seriously saying Jesus spent an eternity in hell?”

There are some who wrongly believe Jesus spent time in hell after His death, and this based on the KJV’s mistranslation of hadēs (i.e., the place of the disembodied dead) as “hell.” But Jesus did not go to hell (geenna (i.e., the place of eternal damnation and death) after His death. Instead, He (His Spirit) went to “paradise” (paradeisos, a specific place in hades (Lk. 23:43), which is also referred to as “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22). His body, which did not see corruption, remained in the tomb (Acts 2:31). It wasn’t long before His spirit and body were reunited when He was resurrected by the power of God (Acts 2:32). Hence, it would be “ignorance gone to seed” to think Jesus suffered “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9).

Although the chart below was originally designed to depict what happens to the saved and the lost after their deaths and resurrections, it also serves to indicate what happened to Jesus after His death and resurrection. He never experienced any of those things in the bottom tier of the chart, whether it was “torment” in the hadean realm (cf. Lk. 16:22b-24), or “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” in hell (2 Thess. 1:9).

What Happens After Physical Death
What Happens After Physical Death

In dealing with this subject in the past, I tried, like some still do, to equate the suffering of an infinite Being in a finite moment of time with the suffering a finite being who’s not in contact with the blood of Christ will experience throughout eternity. The argument goes like this:

We must keep in mind that both the physical and the spiritual suffering of Christ was experienced by one who was by nature divine and thus infinite in his being. Thus, even though he suffered for only a finite period of time, the suffering itself was infinite; it cannot be quantified. This helps to answer how can the suffering of Christ, which lasted only a few hours, be the equivalent of eternity in hell for the whole human race? Because he was God. The finite suffering of an infinite being would seem to be equivalent to the infinite suffering of finite beings.[1]

As indicated in the footnote, this quote is from Jack Cottrell, who I have learned much from over the years. However, I no longer believe such thinking to be correct, nor is it even necessary, considering my present understanding of things. As I attempted to set forth in the previous series entitled “TRIPLE “D” DEATH AND THE “WAGES OF SIN” (click here to view), I believe the “death” of Romans 6:23a is not so much a reference to a specific event (e.g., spiritual death, physical death, or eternal death) as it is a process (viz., spiritual death + physical death = eternal death).

Consequently, I no longer view the equivalency of eternal death as something Jesus had to experience “for us” or “on our behalf.” This is because eternal death, for those who remain physically alive, is not something that is “written in stone,” so to speak. Instead, it is the horrible and tragic end of all who refuse to “kiss the Son” (Psa. 2:12). In saying this, I do not mean that eternal death is not a future reality for those not washed with the blood of the Lamb, only that while we remain alive, the grace of God is available to all who will render obedience to the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As a result of His cross work, Jesus, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), was able to reverse the process of death that had begun in connection with the first Adam (Rom. 5:12-19). Those who, in connection with the first Adam, had become spiritually dead as a result of their own sins (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Rom. 3:23; cf. Eph. 2:1,5), and who were under the sentence of physical death in connection with the sin of Adam, our federal head (cf. Gen. 3:14-19; Rom. 8:19-22; Heb. 9:27), are enabled under the last Adam, the One who is the beginning of God’s “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), to experience “eternal life” (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:12,19; Tit. 1:2 and 3:7; 1 Jn. 2:25) rather than eternal death. As a result, the triple “D” death process that had begun in connection with the first Adam has been completely reversed in connection with the last Adam.

This means, among other things, that Jesus, regardless of whether or not it was even possible, would not have needed to experience any sort of eternal death or its equivalent on our behalf, and this because eternal death will only become the actual condition or state of those who refuse to accept the forgiveness that can be theirs by grace through faith in Jesus—a grace that was in play, whether fallen man appreciated all its ramifications or not, from, and even before, the very foundation of the world:

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. (2) For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. (3) For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: ‘SO I SWORE IN MY WRATH, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,”’ although the works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:1-3; cf. Heb. 9:26; 1 Pet. 13:8; Rev. 17:8).

What all this means is that eternal death is not, nor was it ever, a given for sinful man. Due to God’s original grace in connection with the cross-work of Christ that was sure to be—and was—actualized as a result of God’s determined purpose and foreknowledge (cf. Acts 2:23), man does not have to experience eternal death. What He experiences, and this because all have sinned, is God’s judicial wrath toward sin and sinners and physical death, which are the first two deaths of the triple “D” death process. In experiencing these on our behalf, Jesus made it possible for us to become free from a fate much worse than either spiritual and physical death—namely, “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9).



[1] Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once For All: Bible Doctrine For Today, 2004, third printing, p. 268.

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