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If Jesus was merely a man, then God would seem unjust for punishing the innocent Jesus in place of the guilty due to violating the following:

  1. Man is to be put to death for his own sin and not for the sin of another (Ez 18:20; Dt 24:16)

  2. No man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life (Ps 49:7-9)

Moreover, God seems unjust for WANTING to crush the innocent man that is Jesus (Is 53:10; Lk 22:42), regardless of Jesus' willingness to follow the Father's will and lay His life down as a sacrifice. That God could desire and plan to punish/sacrifice an innocent man, His Son no less, for the sins of others would go against His character.

The only way I see God being just would be that Jesus is God. Thus, God's plan would not be the unjust sacrifice of an innocent third party but rather the just, noble sacrifice of the self. But if you can show that God is just in sacrificing Jesus even if Jesus isn't God, then please leave an answer down below.

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    "If Jesus was merely a man..." but Jesus is not merely a man. He is also God.
    – Null
    Commented May 7 at 2:22
  • @Null I agree, but can you argue that God is just in this scenario if Jesus wasn't? Commented May 7 at 3:04
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    The above will need to be clarified. 1. Jesus voluntarily yielded his life. He was not killed. 2. The physical sufferings (scourging and crucifixion) were not vicarious. 3. The matter of bearing individuals' sins (before death) and the matter of bearing sin itself (the sin of the world) (through death) were matters regarding the Righteousness of God and these matters were settled privately within the Deity. 4. As it stands, the question is merging these matters and not considering the separate issues.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 7 at 12:32
  • @another-prodigal What is the point of answering a "what if" for a situation we both agree is not true?
    – Null
    Commented May 7 at 13:38
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    If, as above, you accept that the issues are many (though related) then separate questions are required to answer each issue in turn. The question is glossing over the fact of many (related) issues. Questions on Stack Exchange are required to be single questions. Answering multiple questions secreted within one leads to complicated answers.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 8 at 3:53

3 Answers 3

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Punish:

  • "inflict a penalty or sanction on (someone) as retribution for an offense, especially a transgression of a legal or moral code."

Retribution:

  • "punishment inflicted on someone as vengeance for a wrong or criminal act."

There is a significant difference between vengeful punishment and an objective penalty that is the direct consequence of one's choices.

  • Punishment is often a form of vengeance, where the one that inflicts the punishment enjoys the feeling of revenge (e.g. if you don't obey me, I'll torture you).
  • A penalty is an objective, predictable result (e.g. if you sin, you will die).

Those that strongly believe in a Hell of continual suffering get their ideas from Pagan mythology and don't seem to realize that punishment is actually mentioned only a few times in the Greek Scriptures:

  • Non-Christians want to inflict punishment:

Acts 4:21, 22:5, 26:11: (Priests and Pharisees want to punish Christians).

1 Peter 2:14: (Punishment by civil authorities.)

  • For Christians, it's better to forgive than to punish:

2 Colossians 2:6–7: "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow."

  • God will "punish" those that refuse his salvation by destroying them:

Matthew 25:4: "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

2 Thessalonians 1:8–9: "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;"

Hebrews 10:2: "Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?"

2 Peter 2:9: "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:"

In the last case, God doesn't get pleasure from destroying the wicked (1 Timothy 2:4: "Who will have all men to be saved"). Rather, they are incorrigible and there is simply no chance that they will ever accept his salvation. Destruction is the only humane way. This is much more a direct "penalty" than a "punishment".


Given that background, we see that God did not punish Jesus and certainly didn't take any pleasure or sense of revenge from it. He simply allowed men to kill Jesus.

And yes, that death was unjust, but that injustice was the whole point of it. By dying an unjust death (being without sin Jesus didn't deserve any such penalty), Jesus was able to apply that injustice to pay the (justified) penalty for others.

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  • A fair amount of translations of Isaiah 53:10 say that God was pleased or delighted to crush Jesus. To say that God "simply allowed men to kill Jesus" doesn't take away the fact that God wanted to sacrifice Jesus, not to mention that God put Jesus in a specific point in time so that everything that happened to him would happen the way it did. If you were a judge, would you want to sacrifice your son to take the place of a murderer even if your son was willing? Commented May 7 at 3:56
  • @another-prodigal asks "would you want to sacrifice your son to take the place of a murderer even if your son was willing?". No, but I'm not God and can't restore life. ¶ A better question would be: Would I want my son to sell his house to pay the fine for a close friend who did something stupid and has since repented and changed his attitude and behaviour?. Perhaps not. Or perhaps yes if that person now has a loving relationship like a son to me and like a brother to my first son. Commented May 7 at 12:46
  • If perhaps yes, then the end justifies the means, that those who repent are forgiven at the expense of another as willed and designed in pleasure by God, yet we both know God can't do something contrary to his nature Commented May 7 at 16:52
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A Just Universe Indeed, this is a just universe where Absolute Truth, Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, are manifest with Justice prevailing because of an Providential Almighty God.

And as pointed out, each man is responsible for his actions, his own actions, and will be held accountable by a just God when he stands before the Bar on Judgment/Reward Day. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Equally Great Attribute But along with justice, holiness, and righteousness as Divine attributes, God is also a loving God. His charity, coupled with mercy and grace, is an effulgent, effervescent part of His glory!

And it is His love that brought Himself to the earth to redeem fallen mankind! For God so love the world... is the oft repeated verse from the Bible (John 3:16). In the mystery of Incarnation, God placed Himself on the altar of redeeming sacrifice as an act of unselfish love.

When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die.
But God commended His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!...nothing shall separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37, 39)

Jesus could have called ten thousand angels to deliver Him from the cross of crucifixion. But He had been convicted of love in the first degree, and it was love, not nails, that restrained Jesus on the cross.

Innocence was crucified, not just an innocent man. That would have been unjust. The Just died for the unjust. But truth crushed to earth will rise again! And Jesus did rise again...now surrounded with the joy of a company of redeemed people by His side. People He loved enough to redeem with His own blood!

Love Abounding Is it out of the question that Someone, even God, should send His Son to die for others? Does that speak against a father who would do such a thing?

Just recall that thousands of fathers sent their sons overseas to fight and die in a foreign land for the benefit of people they had never met or known! (WW II) But our Heavenly Father knows us---he knows our failures and shortcomings---and sent His Son anyway. Something...about...love...I reckon.

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No man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life (Ps 49:12,13)

You misinterpret this passage, forgetting verse 4:

I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.

It is a riddle, therefore the surface meaning is incomplete. First, verse 6 speaks of a ransom of wealth and riches. No material offering, the treasure that moth and rust consume, can pay for a life. A spiritual ransom is necessary. The life of Jesus was not a material offering.

Second, when the sinner is ransomed, Jesus is not the one who pays the ransom. Jesus IS the ransom. He offers himself to the Father, saying "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" It is then the father who pays the ransom:

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. - Psalm 49:15

God had already said that without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sins. He set up the riddle. It can't be a man - it must be a man.

A God of love must create a world where there is a valid ransom that can be paid. That is His justice. He designed everything so that in this universe there would be such an acceptable ransom. In Job, that man realized that he needed a human mediator who could sympathize with him (Job 9:32-25, 16:21), because God terrified him. But he also needed someone with the power of God to do the job. In my book Job Rises: Thirteen Keys to a Resilient Life, I assembled a list of eight "job requirements" (I have since found a ninth) for a savior that Job arrived at. Only someone who fulfilled all of them could save him. Since being both man and God are two of the requirements and Job was the most righteous man alive, he would know what is just and what is unjust. Therefore it is impossible that one can prove the justice of the act of paying God's ransom in the person of Jesus Christ apart from Jesus' divinity. No ransom of anything that is not both a man and God will ever suffice.

Jesus' prayer at Gethsemane completes the proof. There is not and can not be another other way. If there were (meaning that Jesus was overpaying the debt), then his loving Father would have told him.

“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

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