Given Christianity believes that the "punishment for sin is death" (Rom. 6:23, etc.) and that punishment is eternal (2 Thes. 1:9, Matt. 25:41, Rev. 20:10, etc.), how was Christ's punishment a satisfactory punishment when it wasn't eternal?

I realize that Jesus was perfect and didn't deserve death Himself, but since He was/is the Lamb of God (John 1:29,36) how is the eternal punishment of our sin is satisfied in a non-eternal way through Him?

  • 1
    I don't believe that potentially related questions like this and this address the key point of this question, so I am not flagging this as a potential duplicate. Commented Jul 24, 2015 at 21:47

4 Answers 4


Reformed theologians who hold to penal substitutionary atonement emphasize a) the divine nature of Christ and the increased capacity for suffering that that implies and b) the intensity of God's wrath against him.

Louis Berkhof, in his Systematic Theology (3.2.1.B), writes:

[Christ's] capacity for suffering was commensurate with the ideal character of His humanity, with His ethical perfection, and with His sense of righteousness and holiness and veracity. No one could feel the poignancy of pain and grief and moral evil as Jesus could.

[Christ] was subject not only to physical, but also to eternal death, though He bore this intensively and not extensively, when He agonized in the garden and when He cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" In a short period of time He bore the infinite wrath against sin to the very end and came out victoriously. This was possible for Him only because of His exalted nature.

The Heidelberg Catechism, answer 37, reads:

That during his whole life on earth, but especially at the end, Christ sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might deliver us, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.

Wayne Grudem, in chapter 27 of his Systematic Theology, emphasizes the meaning of Christ's words on the cross as signifying the completion of his suffering and his victory:

Jesus was able to bear all the wrath of God against our sin and to bear it to the end. No mere man could ever have done this, but by virtue of the union of divine and human natures in himself, Jesus was able to bear all the wrath of God against sin and bear it to the end. [...] When Jesus knew that he had paid the full penalty for our sin, he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). If Christ had not paid the full penalty, there would still be condemnation left for us. (p578)

Other views of the atonement

Grudem notes that Roman Catholic teaching on the completion of Christ's sacrifice is different. He quotes Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma:

In the Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Sacrifice of the Cross the Sacrificial Gift and the Primary Sacrificing Priest are identical; only the nature and the mode of the offering are different.... according to the Thomistic view, in every Mass Christ also performs an actual immediate sacrificial activity.

Protestants and others who reject the theory of penal substitution also answer this question differently. Proponents of the moral influence theory, for example, do not suggest that Christ was "paying for our sins" at all, and that therefore punishment of eternal length was not required.

Similarly, under the governmental theory, Christ suffers to show that a penalty must be paid for lawlessness, but he does not pay the penalty for all the sins of the elect, so again, full payment is not required. More on these and other theories of the atonement can be found on the corresponding Wikipedia articles, and analysis of them is found in both works of Grudem's and Berkhof's that I've quoted.


When the sinner is condemned and dies because "the wages of sin is death", the punishment is eternal because he is not able to provide a righteous life.

The difference is, though Jesus took on our sins to become "sin for us" and was condemned to death, God raised Him up again because He never sinned Himself. Having never sinned, He - the second member of the Godhead - retains His humanity and still lives in righteousness even after paying the price for us. This is the meaning of the phrase "He had victory over death".

Therefore, justice is fulfilled because "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:33) and "without the shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb 9:22) - Jesus voluntarily fulfilled that. But it is His righteous life lived as a man that is the key to justifying us to a resurrection and making Him the "first fruit of resurrection" (1 Cor 15:23).


Christ “died” for our sins (1 Cor. 15:3). The punishment the law required for our sins was not the whippings on His back or Hell, but death. Jesus’ substitutionary death perfectly fulfilled the offering requirements of the OT.

When the Jews of ancient Israel brought their offerings to God for their sins, the priest did not have the sinners wait for eternity before their sins could be covered! No; they merely had to offer the sacrifice according to the custom, and when the sacrificial animal died with the shedding of blood, the sins were covered (Lev. 1). So was Christ. The Prince of Life died with the shedding of blood, and that was enough to pay the debt for us.

Similarly, some families have had a family member that was murdered. Once the murderer was executed, the family had closure because justice was done when the murderer died. The family does not need to wait forever before they feel justice is done!

So it is with Jesus. Besides, He could not stay in Hell anyway, for Hell is for sinners. Since Jesus did not sin, Hell could not hold Him.

Also, if there was no resurrection from the dead according to the Scriptures, then we would still be in our sins (1 Cor. 15:12-19); we would all be going to Hell. If Jesus never rose from the dead, then He would be found a mere man like the millions of men before and after Him. His resurrection is proof that He was God’s Man, and we will face a judgment to come (Acts 17:31). We could have no faith in a dead man, could we?


Quite simply... The death of Christ for sin was His body of flesh only. He can not die spiritually because God is Eternal... from everlasting to everlasting, Ps.90:2. In the Old Testament we read all about blood sacrifices of animals performed by the priests which were given to typify the atoning death of Christ yet to play out in history.

The requirement of law for transgression against God is death, Ro.6:23a. That's what Christ did... He died... the requirement of death was satisfied, justice is served. Now, the guilty can go free providing God has ordained to remit the sins of the sinner due to Christs dying in the sinners stead as in Acts 13:14-48 for example.

  • 1
    I don't think this is broadly representative of Christian views on this issue. The understanding of the nature of death being one thing separated from another allows, in a sense, for God to die. God the father turned his back on his son and the Son experienced what it was to be cut off from the fellowship of the trinity. Lots more happened at the cross than the death of his body alone!
    – Caleb
    Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 16:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .