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Ezekiel 18:19-20 NKJV :

19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?’ Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and observed them, he shall surely live. 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

Ezekiel 18:19 says the reason the son cannot bear the guilt of the father is because the son has done what is lawful and right. Since Jesus is sinless (1 Peter 2:22) how can he bear the guilt of anyone? Similarly how can our wickedness be upon Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21), if as per verse 20, it must be upon ourselves?

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Ezekiel 18 (Personal Responsibility) is talking about a completely different thing than 2 Cor 5:16-21 (The Ministry of Reconciliation) since Ezekiel is discussing whether there is inherited sin from a guilty father: the context was sons in the Babylonian exile (like Ezekiel himself) whose fathers were guilty, prompting God to punish Judah through exile.

But Jesus's father is God Himself, who is not guilty, so Eze 18 doesn't apply. "to be sin for us" in 2 Cor 5:21 can also be translated as "to be a sin offering for us" signifying God giving us the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Why did God provide Jesus to take away our sins? This is so all we need to do is accept the gift of forgiveness rather than having to provide a "sin offering" on our own. This is a sign of great generosity and mercy and should be reciprocated on our part by showing forgiveness, generosity and mercy to others and by worshiping God with thankfulness.

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  • Thank you so much for clearing that up, I had a lot of kind of vague answers before but that actually makes sense.
    – User2280
    Dec 12, 2023 at 2:28
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Perhaps by turning the question around the other way, the answer might emerge.

How can Jesus bear our sins if he was a sinner?

In Ezekiel chapter 18, all the people under consideration are sinners. The fathers sin, and their children sin. Verse 19 makes the point that if the son keeps all God's statutes, he shall live. He shall not die. And he certainly shall not die for the sins of his father! However, there is no-one who does not sin, as the prophet Isaiah stated in chapter 53 vs. 6-7 & Romans 3:9-18. That is why we all have to die, "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).

Jesus the Son of God did not need to die, never having sinned, but he chose to give his life as an offering. He laid his life down on our behalf, that our sin might be dealt with righteously by God. Those who put faith in that can "be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, by the righteousness which is of God, by faith." Philippians 3:9 K.J.

And, because Jesus had never sinned, the grave could not hold him. It can only claim sinners. So, up from the grave he arose, in triumph o'er his foes, including the last enemy, Death, and the Devil, and Sin.

This deals with the second part of your question, How can our wickedness be upon Jesus? It can, because the plan of salvation is to do for us (out of unmerited love and grace) what we cannot do for ourselves. The only way to deal with, and dispose of our sin, is for a sinless one to bear the punishment in our stead. That is because God must punish sin. He cannot wink at it, or sweep it under the carpet. He is holy and righteous; we are unholy and unrighteous. The righteousness of God was displayed to the whole world at Golgotha, when that sin was punished by the sinless one bearing our sin, and our punishment, on that tree. Satisfaction resulted, without God violating his own perfect standards of justice.

But how many people have eyes to see in that supernatural darkness that covered the land for three hours on that awful day? Ah, but faith in what Jesus did opens our spiritually blind eyes and we come to spiritual newness of life. That's when we discover our wickedness was laid upon Christ, and we fall down on our knees in confession and worship.

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    Yes, those who penetrate the darkness, with the eye of faith, see deeper than the legal 'rectitude' of human reason. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 17 at 4:38
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After Adam and Eve sinned, God made skin clothes out of lambs and covered their nakedness. Nakedness in spiritual context refers to sin. This was a foreshadow of God's plan since the beginning to send a savior to atone for the sins of man kind. The lamb here is sinless but is used to cover the sins of Adam and Eve who are guilty. For the forgiveness of sins then shedding of innocent blood is required. That explain why sacrifices have been offered since Abraham till the time that Jesus came and became the last sacrifice. That shows how God values humanity and has the best of plans for our race. A sinner cannot bear the sin of a fellow sinner because they are both guilty and God would not listen to either despite the sin count for both but a righteous person can call out to God to have mercy on the sinner and God will listen.

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The Ezekiel 18 chapter is referring to justice, which should be impartial and righteous; it is warning against injustice. This is different from the concept of a sacrifice, such as Isaiah 53, or the sacrifice of the righteous that atones. The sacrifice of the righteous is not a human sacrifice offered by sinners, as the pagans do. The concept of sacrifice is a means of atonement, of healing the breach in the covenant relationship and reuniting the people in communion with God. It was believed to be efficacious in restoring a broken relationship, not because blood had magical power in itself, but because God had provided the symbolic means by which guilt was pardoned. Thus, retrospectively, the sacrifice of the righteous still remain unjust or unfair, however, the righteous is regarded for his virtue.

The nature of these sacrifice of the righteous is understood retrospectively, since they are ethical in nature, not ritualistic as the pagan human sacrifice. Think in this line:

[John 11:49-52 ESV] But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

For some details of the general concept of the sacrifice of the righteous, think about the analogies of police or soldiers dying for the people, firefighters, any rescue worker etc. There are details found in the Jewish commentaries or tradition about this. In Biblestudying site we see:

58 Before we look into the Hebrew Bible, however, I want to point out that on several occasions the Talmud itself teaches that “the death of the righteous atones” (mitatan shel tsaddiqim mekapperet). In a well-known discussion (b. Mo’ed Qatan 28a), the Talmud asks why the Book of Numbers records the death of Miriam immediately after the section on the red heifer (see Num. 19:1-20:1). The answer is that just as the red heifer atones, so also the death of the righteous atones (see also Rashi to Num. 20:1). 264 And why, the Talmud asks, is the death of Aaron recorded in conjunction with the Torah’s reference to the priestly garments (Num. 20:25-28)? The answer is, just as the garments of the high priest atone (see Exodus 28, especially v. 38), so also the death of the righteous atones. (Some of the Rabbinic texts read “atones for Israel” in all the cases just cited.) This theme is actually fairly common in Rabbinic literature. Look, for example, at Leviticus Rabbah 20:12, repeated elsewhere verbatim (e.g., y. Yoma 2:1, Pesikta deRav Kahana 26:16): “Rabbi Hiyya Bar Abba said: The sons of Aaron [i.e. Nadab and Abihu] died the first day of Nisan. Why then does the Torah mention their death in conjunction with the Day of Atonement [which occurred on the tenth of Tishrei; see Lev. 16:1]? It is to teach that just as the Day of Atonement atones, so also the death of the righteous atones.” 265 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 155-156
Footnote 264: According to Siftey Hakhamim, commenting on Rashi’s words, just at the red heifer, which is not a real sacrifice, atones, so also the death of the righteous atones.

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