Did God kill God?

The question of whether God “killed” Jesus is important, because it affects the way we see the character of God, which in turn affects the way that we relate to him. God didn’t “pull the trigger”, or seek the killing of Jesus, but rather allowed it, in order to atone for our sins.

We need to look carefully at what God has told us in his word so that we believe the truth about him, and what happened on the cross is absolutely critical to our appreciation of who God is and what Jesus’ death means.

The background

What might be the earliest known view of atonement is the Ransom Theory, which was developed by Origen (185-254 AD), and which was prevalent until the Middle Ages. The thought is that in the fall of Adam we made ourselves subject to the devil instead of God, but that Jesus ransomed us.[1]

However, in 1098, Anselm came up with the Theory of Satisfaction which was most likely affected by the feudal culture in which he lived. Common folk served a knight who was charged with protecting the area in which they lived and a great social distance existed between them. An offense against the honor of a knight was considered very serious, and required heavy punishment to satisfy the offended knight’s honor. Knights could not simply forgive an offense, because that would imply the offense didn’t matter, in turn causing the people to be less fearful of the knighthood. An offense against the king demanded an even more severe response. For Anselm, sin was an offense against God’s honor, and God could not ignore our sins against Him, but the death of Jesus on the cross restored (satisfied) that honor. Through His suffering, Jesus regained the honor that was “lost”.

Hundreds of years after Anselm, Europe changed, and people were challenging the ideas of its previous society. The Protestant Reformation was ignited by Luther, Calvin, and others. This brought about the development of a new theory of atonement called Penal Substitution. Penal Substitutionary Atonement was based on Anselm’s Satisfaction Theory but with a significant upgrade: these reformers did not see the atonement as Jesus satisfying the honor of God in our place; rather Jesus satisfied the holiness and justice of God. The idea was that God is holy and therefore cannot come near unholiness (of sin). And, since He is just and cannot justly ignore sin, He then, according to the view of many; must therefore punish sin. So God poured out His necessary wrath for our sin on Jesus. Therefore, Jesus paid the debt for our sin in satisfaction of God’s holiness and justice.

So, if we assume Penal Substitution to be true, the question that is begged to be asked – did God want mankind to reject, torture and murder the Messiah (ultimately making God the executer)? Or did God allow mankind to kill Jesus, considering His’ death as a sacrificial atonement for sin?

God did not kill Jesus – or even want to

Here is a deductive argument, making the case that it is not possible that God killed Jesus:

  1. God is incapable of desiring sin, yet may allow sin to take place.
  2. Rejection, torture and murder of the Messiah are sins.
  3. Jesus was rejected, tortured and murdered.
  4. Therefore, God was incapable of desiring Jesus to be rejected, tortured and murdered. Yet allowed it (for morally sufficient reasons).

(1) God is incapable of desiring sin, yet may allow sin to take place.

God is holy, and therefore is incapable of desiring anything but good. It is impossible for Him to delight, take pleasure, or want evil or sin. Not because He chooses good over evil, but because He is goodness Himself. God hates sin because it is the very antithesis of His nature. (Psalm 5:4, Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 89:35, Psalm 92:15, Romans 9:14)

(2) Rejection, torture and murder of the Messiah are sins.

Jesus’ trial was rigged. He did not deserve the punishment (torture) and rejection He had to endure following the corrupted trial. The arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing and execution of Jesus Christ were, and still are, without legal precedent. He received the death penalty even though Pontius Pilate – the local Roman authority – found Him innocent. The unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another is murder, and murder is a sin (Exodus 20:13).

(3) Jesus was rejected, tortured and murdered.

According to scriptures, Jesus was rejected, Jesus was tortured, and Jesus was murdered. (Matthew 23:39, Luke 22:63, Matthew 27:30, Mark 15:19, Matthew 26:67, John 19:3, Mark 14:65, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, Acts 5:30, Acts 2:36, Acts 3:15, Acts 4:10).

(4) Therefore, God was incapable of desiring Jesus to be rejected, tortured and murdered.

If God wanted us to reject, torture and kill the Messiah, it would mean that God wanted us to sin against Him. But God is unable to want sin, desire sin or take pleasure in sin, as it is against His nature. The obvious conclusion therefore, is that since the rejection, the torture and the killing of Jesus were sins, God could not have wanted them to take place, only that He allowed them to take place.

What about Isaiah 53:10?

There is one place in Scripture where God appears to want sin to take place, is in the first part of verse 10 of Isaiah chapter 53:

“But the LORD was pleased to crush Him…” (NASB)
“Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him…” (NIV)

However, the Seputagint translation of Isaiah 53:10 renders “cleanse” instead of “crushed”[3], which suggests a very different meaning than the Masoretic Hebrew text[3]. While in many cases in Biblical Hebrew, דכא\ו means a negative “oppressed” or “crushed”, it can also mean a positive “cleanse”, “humble” or “meek”. The word דכא in Aramaic and the word דכא in Hebrew appear the exact same way, which most likely means there is a connection between the two, and probably testify of a shared origin. Either way, in contrast to the dual definitions in Hebrew, the word in Aramaic means “to cleanse”, or “to purify”, supporting the view of the Septuagint.

Most English Bible translations, going with the Masoretic text, choose the word “crushed” for Isaiah 53:10’s “דַּכְּאוֹ”, but not all. The Apostolic Bible Polyglot (ABP) which is based on the Septuagint, translated the verse: “And the LORD willed to cleanse him of the beating…” (ABP) It appears there is a wide semantic range for the word in question (דכאו) appearing in Isaiah 53:10, and therefore one should be careful when developing a world-changing theology, which is not explicitly stated in the New Testament, based on one single word.

But lets us assume that “crush” is indeed the correct translation. What could Isaiah have meant when he declared “the LORD was pleased to crush Him”? First, we must remember that Isaiah 53 is a metaphorical style of writing, of a prophecy which portrays Israel’s point of view. We should be careful not to take every word literally. After all, there is no hovering arm of God floating from the skies touching people (verse 1), Jesus is not a root (verse 2), we are not sheep (verse 6), Jesus was not always silent (verse 7), and He did not have babies (verse 10). In the same way, we should look at “the LORD was pleased to crush Him” (verse 10) – with the same metaphorical view in mind.

The Old Testament describes sacrifices as something in which God takes pleasure in [4] but it is not in the death itself that God takes pleasure, but in what that death produces (2 Cor 2:15). God takes pleasure and satisfaction in the fact that the need for atonement (in exchange for our lives) is being met. God took pleasure not in the Messiah being rejected, tortured and dying (which would make Him a bullying, angry, harsh, vengeful God) but rather took pleasure in the perfect sacrifice finally being provided. Metaphorically, it is as if Isaiah was saying: “the LORD was pleased to receive Him as sacrifice.”

God allowed the killing of Jesus by men

Three centuries before Christ, Plato, knowing the human heart and the evil of civilization, predicted exactly that: “our just man will be scourged, racked, fettered…and at last, after all manner of suffering, will be crucified.” How right he was. Plato knew that mankind is quite capable of this kind of evil.

David Platt understands the crucifixion event like this, “At the Cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, “It is finished.”…This is the gospel. The just and loving Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful people and sent his Son, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin”.[5] For Platt, “the cup” is God’s anger, wrath and punishment (against mankind), which was built up from the beginning of time, and was given to Jesus to suffer in our place. In other words, instead of God giving the cup to us (punishing us), He gave the cup (punishment) to Jesus.

However, Platt is basing his theology on a misunderstanding of what ‘the cup’ means. The cup indeed symbolizes suffering, torture and pain, not coming from God however, but coming from mankind.

In Matthew 20:22, Jesus is talking about “the cup” He is designated to drink. James and John are asking to drink from that same cup as Jesus. Jesus replies: “My cup you shall drink.” (Matthew 20:23) If the cup is God’s wrath (punishment for sin), and if Jesus satisfied that wrath already by drinking that cup on the cross, why then did Jesus agree that James and John, who died much later than He did, will drink that cup as well? That would create a logical contradiction. The cup, I believe, is not the wrath of God, the cup represents the suffering James and John are destined to experience by the hands of other people.

God is not punishing His Son for crimes He never did, that would-be injustice.
Nor does God offer Jesus as a sacrifice to Himself.

Men, all throughout the Old Testament, were the ones to offer atonement to God. God never offered Himself an atonement. Two thousand years ago, without even His own disciples realizing it, humankind offered Jesus as the sacrificial atonement.

“You killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” (Acts 3:15)

God considered Jesus’ death to be the sacrificial atonement

Dr. Roger E. Olson, Professor of Theology, explains it well:

“Men committed the violence against Jesus, not God the Father, and the actual suffering of the atonement was the rejection Jesus suffered by the Father.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the moment of atonement.  God did not kill Jesus (at least in my version of penal substitution); people did.  The Father did not inflict punishment on the unwilling, innocent Son as his victim; the Son volunteered to suffer the Father’s wrath. The Father’s wrath was not physical violence; it was the rupture within the Godhead suffered by both the Son and the Father (in different ways).  The atonement was that he (Jesus), who knew no sin, became sin for us….with the result that the Father had to turn away and forsake him. The penalty for sin is spiritual death; separation from God, not physical death. Thus, God practiced no violence in the cross; God did not “kill Jesus” physically. The men who crucified him did that. God used the opportunity (perhaps provoked by Jesus himself by his triumphal entry) to carry out his great plan to suffer the penalty for sin by making HIMSELF the sacrificial lamb led to the slaughter by sinful men–the scapegoat sent out of the camp bearing the sins of the world.  But his being sent out, away from the Father, in shame, was ultimately his own plan (together with the Father and the Holy Spirit) and his choice.” [6]

God, being omniscient, knew in advance that sending His Son Jesus in the perfect timing of two thousand years ago, a time where the religious leaders were extremely corrupted – would lead to His rejection, torture and eventually death by the hands of men on the cross. A mission Jesus voluntarily agreed to take on Himself. In a sense, we may say that it wasn’t really Jesus on trial, but it was humanity on trial. God used the negative of human sin to bring out a His positive forgiveness, without compromising justice.

God did not want men to kill the Messiah, He wanted to allow Him to be killed.

“This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” (Acts 2:23)

Jesus willingly laid down his life

This may prove a useful analogy: imagine there are kidnappers who kidnapped 100,000 people, including my son. And they give me the choice between the release of my son (while the other 99,999 will die), or the release of the 99,999 (while my son will die). I end up talking to my son, allowing him the choice, and he chooses to give his life voluntarily in order to save the lives of the others. It doesn’t mean that I wanted my son to die, or that my son wanted to die himself. It only means that we both wanted to allow his life to be taken in order to save the lives of others.

Golgotha is the peak of humanity’s greatest crimes — pride, rivalry, blame, violence, domination and such, which were met with judgment. Judgment of the human system called “civilization” for what it really is: a war over power and control enforced by violence so corrupted that it is even capable of murdering God Himself – in the name of “truth and justice”. But Golgotha is also where we experienced the ultimate love of God in its greatest form – sacrificial love.

Jesus, even as he was lynched in the name of religious truth and imperial justice, was able to express God’s heart in one sentence, as He plead for God to forgive us, for we do not know what we do. At the cross, we discover the deepest level – not of God’s wrath and anger, but of God’s love and grace. Although He could have killed men for the sake of justice and set His Son free, He chose to allow His Son to die in the name of love – for our sake.

What the cross is not is a place where an angry God unloaded and discharged His frustrations and anger with humanity. Jesus did not save us from God, but revealed God as a loving Savior willing to lay down His own life so ours can be forgiven.

The understanding that God allowed us to reject, torture and kill His Son, voids the concept of a monstrous deity requiring a virgin to be thrown into a volcano, a baby to be burnt or a firstborn son to be nailed to a tree in order to satisfy his wrath and calm him down. Although we met with the depths of human depravity, we also met with the depth of God’s love for us, gaining His forgiveness. The death of Jesus was a sacrifice. But it was a sacrifice to end sacrificing, not a sacrifice to appease the appetite of some angry gods. It was not God who needed the sacrifice of Jesus, it was us, the human civilization who needed it. Jesus was “sacrificed by the Father” only in the sense of the Father sending his Son into human civilization in order to reveal to us how corrupt and sinful we are – so sinful that we even murdered God Himself. God did not will the murder of His Son, He simply knew it would occur and allowed it.

Paul wrote that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). And this should not be misunderstood as God reconciling Himself to the world. Jesus did not die for God’s sake, but for ours. The crucifixion is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive, the crucifixion is what God in Christ endures as He forgives. The cross is where God absorbs sin and recycles it into forgiveness. The great plan of the cross was not an attempt to change God’s mind about us, but an attempt to change our minds about God. God is not a Caiaphas seeking a sacrifice. God is not a Pilate requiring an execution. God is a Jesus, absorbing sin, forgiving sinners. That makes the gospel all about forgiveness, rather than about payment and punishment. It makes the gospel all about love, rather than all about wrath.

The conclusion is this: It was not God who killed Jesus. It was us, human civilization, who killed Jesus. But the all-knowing, all-loving God knew we would reject His Son, yet allowed it in order for Jesus to become the ultimate once and for all sacrifice for our sake.


[1] Enns, Paul P., The Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 312, (Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:5-6)
[2] “καθαρίζω to make clean, to cleanse” (G2511 καθαρίζω – Strong’s Greek Lexicon)
[3] Jeremy Schipper, “Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant”, (Oxford University Press, September 2011) Page 67.
[4] Genesis 8:20-21, Exodus 29, Leviticus 1-8, 17, 23, Numbers 15, 18, 28, 29
[5] David Platt, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream Multnomah; 1 edition (May 4, 2010), Pages 34-36.
[6] Dr. Roger E. Olson, Nov 2, 2011, Patheos.com

This excerpt originally appeared on One for Israel and reposted with permission.

Click here for the full paper “Did God Kill God?” (25 pages)