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E. W. Kenyon
1867 - 1948

Jesus' Spiritual Death

"How is it that Jesus dies spiritually?" Kenyon, along with many other notable theologians believed that Jesus experienced not only physical death ...but also spiritual death.

I will attempt to answer the questions concerning Jesus' spiritual death. The first question is: "How is it that Jesus dies spiritually?" Kenyon, along with many other notable theologians (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, Leon Morris, etc., etc) believed that Jesus experienced not only physical death (the separation of the spirit or soul from the body) but also spiritual death (the separation of the spirit or soul from fellowship with God). Physical death is not the only penalty we as sinners received as a result of our sin, but we also were "dead in trespasses and sins." This is spiritual death, or alienation from the life of God (Eph. 4:17 ff.) Jesus, in his humanity, experienced this alienation from God on the cross when He cried, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" Kenyon (and many others) believed that from this point until Christ's resurrection from the dead, He was experiencing this separation and the punishment due for our sins. So, the answer to your question would be that Jesus, taking our place in judgment, as the Sinner's substitute, took our sin to Himself, and at this point His Father forsook Him, withdrawing His fellowship and presence.

Another question is, "In what way did sin enter Jesus' nature?" These questions are closely intertwined. Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 5:21 that "He (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin for us who knew no sin…." Jesus was made sin by the Father. What that means only God knows, but it means more than some have suggested, that Jesus was made a "sin offering." The Word 'sin' is used twice in this verse and it is the same word in the Greek of the original text. Now if Paul meant that Jesus was made a sin offering, he could have used the appropriate Greek words to convey that idea. But to suggest that we should translate the verse "He made Him who knew no sin a sin offering…" leaves us translating the same Greek word in the same verse two different ways. To be consistent, we would have to translate, "He made Him who knew no sin offering, to be a sin offering…" which, as you can see makes no sense.

Isaiah 53 also tells us that "God laid on him the iniquity of us all." So in some sense our iniquity came upon Christ on the cross. Later in the chapter Isaiah says that His "soul was made an offering for sin." But the original Hebrew says His "soul was made sin." The Hebrew word for 'sin' and 'sin offering' being the same. This word came to mean 'sin offering' when God established the offerings of the Levitical sacrificial system to atone for sin. The idea of 'offering' being added to help our understanding. What was clearly meant was that the sacrificial victim took the sin upon itself when the High Priest laid his hands on it, transferring the sin of the guilty party to the animal. And so it became a 'sin offering.'

Many scholars believe that Paul is quoting this passage from Isaiah in 2 Cor. 5:21.

How Christ's soul was made sin and received our sin is probably beyond our ability to reason out. Like the triune nature of God and the virgin birth and the incarnation. These are mysteries that we can't fully comprehend or explain. Yet, the Scriptures tell us these things and they are to our blessing and benefit.

Many have expressed a concern that in suggesting that Jesus took the sin nature that it is being suggested that Jesus became a sinner. Jesus never sinned, that's why He could be our substitute. In being made sin, and taking our iniquity on Himself, He never committed any sin or transgression. It was our sin He bore. His separation from the Father was substitutionary and was experienced because He identified Himself with us. As Hebrews says, "He tasted death for every man."

In Acts 2, Peter tells us that Jesus was released from the "pains of death," indicating that He was suffering until his resurrection. Peter says that 'death could not hold him' and He was raised. This implies that death did hold him until He was raised. The pains of His crucifixion would have been over by a number of days. The love that Jesus showed in being willing to experience this broken fellowship with His Father (spiritual death) in order to redeem us has gripped the hearts of many (Kenyon, of course, included) and motivated them to great sacrifice in their service to the Master. My prayer would be that it has this same effect on you and His love and willingness to suffer the very torment of the damned to redeem you would grip your heart and call forth the highest degree of surrender and service to Him.

I hope I have answered your questions satisfactorily. May the Lord richly bless you. 

Pastor Joe McIntyre
President, Kenyon's Gospel Publishing Society