How Did The Substitutionary Atonement Work?

On the surface the logic of the atonement is straightforward.

We sin and are therefore under God’s wrath. When Jesus died on the cross, he suffered the punishment that sin deserves. If we put our faith in Christ, we have eternal life.

If we dig a little deeper, however, we encounter a perplexing question revealed by two biblical teachings.

First, sin against God demands eternal punishment (Matt. 18:8; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 14:11; 20:10).

Second, Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the third day. He wasn’t punished forever. He’s no longer experiencing God’s wrath. He’s seated at the right hand of God the Father (Heb. 9:25–26).

These twin truths raise the question: How did Jesus receive the full punishment for sin (eternal damnation) if he didn’t suffer eternally? To answer it, we must ask four additional questions that get at the logic of the atonement.

1. What Is Death? 

Paul writes, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Death is the punishment for rebellion against God: when Scripture talks about it, it’s not merely a biological category. God warned Adam that, if he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Adam didn’t drop dead the day he ate the fruit, but he was cast out of Eden.

Death, then, is fundamentally separation from God. And in its finality, death is eternity in hell. God won’t be entirely absent; for the damned he will be present as judge and punisher.

2. Why Is Hell Eternal?

Eternal punishment is fitting for at least two reasons. First, God made us to exist forever, so the choice to remain in rebellion and unbelief has eternal consequences. Second, sins committed against an infinite Creator are infinitely grievous. It would therefore seem that, to take our eternal sentence, Jesus would need to be eternally punished. From this we might deduce that either Jesus is still being punished by the Father (which the Bible denies), or his death isn’t sufficient to atone for our sins, since he didn’t receive the eternal punishment we deserve.

There’s a third option.

Read more»

Andrew Menkis | “How Did Jesus Suffer Eternal Punishment in Only 3 Hours?” | July 29th, 2023


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Posted by Andrew Menkis | Monday, April 1, 2024 | Categorized in Atonement, Christian Life, HeidelQuotes. Andrew Menkis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Andrew Menkis

Andrew is a Theology & Rhetoric teacher with a passion for helping others see and experience the truth, beauty, and goodness of God and his creation. Andrew's poetry and prose has been published by Core Christianity, The Gospel Coalition, Modern Reformation Magazine and Ekstasis. You can find more of his writing at


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