The Cross: the scream of the damned?

Was Jesus really damned by God for our salvation? I will try and answer this shocking assertion from the Word of God below.

CJ spoke of our Savior’s cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” And though I have contemplated that amazing cry often, never did it hit me as hard as in CJ’s message, when he referred to it as “the scream of the Damned.”Then there was break and music and announcements, and John Piper stood up to bring his message. Several of us had prayed in a back room that God would anoint John, and pick right up where He left off in the previous message, and wow, did He. John referred repeatedly to the “scream of the Damned,”and then moved into Romans 8.A flood of tears came as God preached the message to me yet again. That Deity would be Damned. That the God who is called upon righteously by the saints and angels in heaven to damn people, and called upon habitually by unbelievers flippantly and unrighteously to damn people, would in fact damn his Son, would (from the Son’s willingness to drink the cup) damn himself…for us. That it could be said of the Beloved One, “God damned Him,” and that He screamed the scream of the Damned….it was too much for me. It is too much for me this moment. And in the ages to come it will continue to be too much for me.



John Piper from his sermon on ‘The Screamed of the Damned.Everything exists to magnify the worth of the scream of the damned.That’s the point of the universe.What we will do forever in heaven is magnify the worth of the scream of the damned.

Calvary will not be forgotten. It is the most-horrible, most sinful, most agonizing event that ever was – it will be the center of heaven forever.

Hell exists, cross exists, sin exists, heaven exists, you exist, universe exists, in order to magnify the worth of the scream of the damned.

What is the apex of the revelation of the grace of God? And the answer is the scream of the damned on the cross.


Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect,
so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,
to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
-Hebrews 2:17

I have listened now several times to two messages from the 2008 Resolved Conference by CJ Mahaney and John Piper. The shocking phrase they both chose to use to describe Jesus’ finished work of redemption on the cross for the elect was, The Scream of the Damned. No, they are not referring to unregenerate people in hell, or the weeping and gnashing of teeth from perdition’s flames, but using this to describe the sinless, holy Son of God as our divine Substitute. The Lord Jesus Christ the Righteous now called: The Damned. This is unthinkable. Those words not only stunned me, but it did stir my interest afresh to go back and study again the atoning work of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross with those provocative words in mind.

Both of these men are good communicators; passionate about the things of the Lord; both strive to be biblical in their sermons; and both are men of God. As most know, Piper has a reputation for creating phrases for shock value and being provocative (i.e., anyone remember Christian Hedonism?). I am all in favor of being creative in our writing, but it must stay in line with biblical truth as well. There can be no artistic license when speaking of God, His attributes, His character, our Lord’s ministry, the cross, or the persons and nature of Jesus Christ Himself in incarnation for our redemption. We must pursue godly discipline with the purposed constraint to God and His truth that careful and circumspect study of Scripture affords when mining these great and essential truths of the Christian faith.

In all of my research, I haven’t been able to find anyone who referred to Jesus’ suffering on the cross as “the damning of Jesus”; and not one early church father that referred to Jesus as “The Damned” when speaking of the cross and substitutionary atonement. If someone knows of any early church father (or anyone for that matter except Piper and CJ) who use the term The Damned to refer to the loving, holy sacrifice of our Lord Jesus on the cross, I would be most interested to see the source and context. Thank you.

For context, CJ and Piper attribute the saying, “The Scream of the Damned”, to Jesus’ words on the cross: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Christ was forsaken as our sin-bearer and propitiatory sacrifice (Heb. 1:3), but this is not the cry nor the language of damnation. This is a quote taken from Psalm 22:1. In saying these words, Jesus is fulfilling the prophetic words of the Psalmist and declaring Himself to be the one true Messiah. He is also expressing the agony and mystery of enduring God’s wrath against us and our sins, so that we may have peace with God forever (Rom. 5:1). God forsaken of God… who can fully comprehend it? What great love by the Father (Rom. 5:8-9) and the Son (John 15:13) to endure such suffering for those He came to save (Heb. 2:9, Phil. 2:5-11). “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Amen?

Do you think that this is a picture of Jesus being damned beloved, or it is a picture of humiliation, substitution, propitiation, redemption, justification, and imputation? Are these two things compatible or antithetical according to God’s Word?

Words matter; especially when expounding God’s Word

Some initial questions I have about this disturbing phrase are:

  • is it biblical?
  • does the Scripture speak of the substitutionary death of Jesus for the elect as Christ being damned?
  • is this just cultural contextualization?
  • is it emotionalism run amuck?
  • is it sensationalized passion?
  • shock the flock nomenclature designed to wake up tired ears?
  • is this sound doctrine, theatrics, dramatics, blasphemy, or truth?
Let’s look briefly at this issue.

The Scream of the Damned seems like language that is meant to provoke thought, solicit listenership, entice questions and entreat discussion rather than expound and exegete Scripture. But, I am absolutely convinced, it is language that is foreign to the biblical record. Nowhere in Scripture, beloved, is our Lord Jesus Christ ever referred to as “the damned” – even while enduring the wrath of God on the cross in vicarious penal substitutionary atonement. To do so misappropriates the truth of this great biblical doctrine and does injustice to the very nature of our sinless Savior who was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners.

Substitutionary death is not equal to the damnation unbelievers suffer, it is far superior because it is not due. His cry was not the cry of the damned but the perfectly obedient and sinless cry of the Son to His Father. Amen?

Is the word damned in the Bible?
The word damned is only used three times in all of Scripture (Mark 16:14; Roms. 14:23; 2 Thess. 2:12); and used for the unregenerate to everlasting perdition. Not even is that language used in describing the elect saints of God. Though we are all conceived in sin, dead in trespasses and sin, and by nature children of God’s wrath, before we come to salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who are regenerated unto life are not called “The Damned.” Consider Romans 9 where Paul distinguishes between vessels of mercy whom God prepared beforehand for eternal life AND the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (v.21-23). He does not say that the vessels of mercy, though elect – but yet not saved, are vessels of damnation… Foolishness.

While I appreciate the ministries of CJ and Piper, God’s truth is preeminent over any person’s individual proclivity to be clever. None of us can assign new meaning to words about the nature, person, character and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ that the Scriptures have not assigned to Him already. To say that Jesus was Damned on the cross, is unbiblical and quite honestly, irresponsible.

Biblically, being damned is an irrevocable, final act of eternal judgment for those who are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. It is not descriptive of Christ’s substitutionary work on the cross. In fact, I would say it is blasphemous.

Notice how God Himself describes the profound account of Jesus on the cross prophetically in Isaiah 53. He uses language such as:

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;”

The Spirit of God in writing God’s Word never one time refers to our Lord Jesus Christ as being “the damned” or the cross as “the damnation of Christ.” (Frankly, it is even disturbing to type that phrase.) If it is so key to understanding the cross, why does not the Author of the Scriptures not use it? It would have been easy for Him to do so, but He does not. And I believe the Word of God is silent on such perturbing nomenclature is for one reason… the cross was not the damnation of Jesus.

Here is how the Bible speaks reverently and solemnly about our Lord upon the cross:

  • He was made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13);
  • He was delivered up because of our transgressions (Rom. 4:25);
  • He died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3).
  • He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24);
  • He died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18);
  • He became the propitiation for our sins (Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 4:10);
  • and He was our divine substitute (Heb. 2:9; Rom. 5:8-9).

In like manner, 2 Cor. 5:21 is referring to imputation, not damnation:

“He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Jesus was holy throughout all aspects of the cross even when drinking the cup of wrath. He was our sin bearer or sacrifice. He was neither guilty of sin, or sinful, nor did He actually become sin itself. That would be heresy. Even in substitution, imputation, and justification the Word does not speak of Him as being damned, but God’s holy once for all sacrifice for our sins.

The Bible speaks of the truth of His vicarious penal substitutionary atonement conveyed in five key words: substitution, justification, imputation, redemption, and propitiation. Nowhere is the damnation of Jesus on the cross a biblical term representing a biblical truth. Biblical terms do matter; and more importantly, biblical terms represent biblical truth written so by God Himself for our benefit and instruction. IOW, words matter.

Bible words are too boring; it needs “punching up” to speak to us… today
There seems to be a trend today to nuance or contextualize biblical truth and biblical terms. Whatever the motive, it can lead to the erosion of the fidelity of God’s Word. (The Prodigal God; The Shack, etc.). We don’t need the truths of Jesus on the cross punched up or embellished in someone’s preaching for it to impact us. The Scriptures are sufficient enough to move us and inform us about the crucifixion and all that Christ did on behalf of satisfying the Father and redeeming His elect.

The need for the shocking, the sensational, the dramatics or the theatrics, etc. adds nothing to the real meaning of the text, or the cross and usually invokes something that is foreign to Scripture – which I believe has unfortunately occurred here. I know this is common within the emerging/emergent church community, but should not be among orthodox expositors of God’s Word. Men like CJ and Piper should be more careful when trying to rightly divide the Word (2 Tim. 2:15).

Jesus “became a curse for us”; but was He damned?

As to the text most cited by those who are trying to introduce apocryphal language as biblical, is Galatians 3:13:

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—

Notice here, Jesus was not cursed; but He became a curse for us. There is a difference. John Calvin agrees also to this difference. Christ saved us from the curse of the Law. What is the curse of the Law? Sin and death. To transgress the Law is to sin; and the wages of sin is death. Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the Law. How? By “becoming a curse for us.” The full weight of the penalty of the Law fell on Christ on the cross so that by His sinless life (His active obedience) and His perfect once for all sacrifice (His passive obedience) we might be redeemed and given by imputation the full righteousness of Christ. We are not made righteous; but we are clothed with His perfect righteousness. He was not cursed, but our sins and the curse of the Law was imputed to Him; and in that sense, He became sin and became the curse of the Law.

He bore the fullness of that curse upon Himself at the cross. Man could not do this for we are under the curse and our own righteousness is nothing but filthy rags deserving of the eternal justice and punishment of hell itself.

John Gill soberly brings this great truth of Gal. 3:10 to our self-righteous hearts and minds… pleading with sinners to trust in Christ alone:

they are under the curse, that is, of the law; they are under its sentence of condemnation and death, they are deserving of, and liable to the second death, eternal death, the wrath of God, here meant by the curse; to which they are exposed, and which will light upon them, for aught their righteousness can do for them; for trusting in their works, they are trusting in the flesh, and so bring down upon themselves the curse threatened to the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm; not only that trusts in a man of flesh and blood, but in the works of man; his own, or any other mere creature’s: besides, by so doing, he rejects Christ and his righteousness, whereby only is deliverance from the curse of the law; nor is it possible by his present obedience to the law, be it ever so good, that he can remove the guilt of former transgressions, and free himself from obligation to punishment for them: nor is it practicable for fallen man to fulfil the law of works, and if he fails but in one point, he is guilty of all, and is so pronounced by the law; and he stands before God convicted, his mouth stopped, and he condemned and cursed by that law he seeks for righteousness by the deeds of:

Man is left hopeless and helpless trusting in his own ability to please God by perfect obedience to His law. This, beloved, is an effort in futility. We can never perfectly satisfy God and His holy standards by our own religious practices, or charitable acts of philanthropy, or reverent displays of adoration. It is all rubbish in His sight and worthy of the manure dump. We must “be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” (Phil. 3:9) if we are to have an unshakable hope of eternal life. Christ Jesus bore the curse of the Law for us; by His sinless life and His once for all complete sacrifice on the cross. He was “delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).

Charles Spurgeon comments on the unfathomable love of our Lord Jesus in “becoming a curse for us” by reason of substitution:

“The curse of God is not easily taken away; in fact, there was but one method whereby it could be removed. The lightnings were in God’s hand; they must be launched; he said they must. The sword was unsheathed; it must be satisfied; God vowed it must. How, then, was the sinner to be saved? The only answer was this. The Son of God appears; and he says, “Father! launch thy thunderbolts at me; here is my breast—plunge that sword in here; here are my shoulders—let the lash of vengeance fall on them;” and Christ, the Substitute, came forth and stood for us, “the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.”

This is moving, powerful, stirring language and biblical in its truth about the worthy Lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world. Jesus was not Damned, He did not suffer damnation; but He willingly died in our place and took the punishment that we deserve upon Himself. O, hallelujah to the King of kings and Lord of lords!

Albert Barnes gives us some word of helpful caution as to what this phrase does not mean:

Being made a curse for us. This is an exceedingly important expression. Tindal renders it, “And was made a curse for us.” The Greek word is katara; the same word which is used in Galatians 3:10. There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament on which it is more important to have correct views than this; and scarcely any one on which more erroneous opinions have been entertained. In regard to it, we may observe that it does not mean, (emphasis by SJC)

(1.) that by being made a curse, his character or work were in any sense displeasing to God.

(2.) He was not ill-deserving, he was not blameworthy. He had done no wrong, he was holy, harmless, undefiled. No crime charged upon him was proved; and there is no clearer doctrine in the Bible than that, in all his character and work, the Lord Jesus was perfectly holy and pure.

(3.) He was not guilty, in any proper sense of the word. The word guilty means, properly, to be bound to punishment for crime. It does not mean, properly, to be exposed to suffering; but it always, when properly used, implies the notion of personal crime.

(4.) It cannot be meant that the Lord Jesus properly bore the penalty of the law. His sufferings were in the place of the penalty, not the penalty itself. They were a substitution for the penalty, and were, therefore, strictly and properly vicarious, and were not the identical sufferings which the sinner would himself have endured. Eternity of sufferings is an essential part of the penalty of the law–but the Lord Jesus did not suffer forever. Thus there are numerous sorrows connected with the consciousness of personal guilt, which the Lord Jesus did not and cannot endure.

(5.) He was not sinful, or a sinner, in any sense. The sense of the passage before us is, therefore, that Jesus was subjected to what was regarded as an accursed death. He was treated in his death AS IF he had been a criminal. He was put to death in the same manner as he would have been if he had himself been guilty of the violation of the law.

Spurgeon says it this way:

“Ah! my hearers, how humbling is this doctrine to our pride, that the curse of God is on every man of the seed of Adam; that every child born in this world is born under the curse, since it is born under the law; and that the moment I sin, though I transgress but once, I am from that moment condemned already; for “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”—cursed without a single hope of mercy,”

John Gill deals with this profound verse by saying:

“becoming the surety of his people, he was made under the law, stood in their legal place and stead and having the sins of them all imputed to him, and answerable for them, the law finding them on him, charges him with them, and curses him for them; yea, he was treated as such by the justice of God, even by his Father, who spared him not, awoke the sword of justice against him, and gave him up into his hands; delivered him up to death, even the accursed death of the cross, whereby it appeared that he was made a curse: “made,” by the will, counsel, and determination of God, and not without his own will and free consent; for he freely laid down his life, and gave himself, and made his soul an offering for sin…

The curse of God, in vindicating his righteous law, was visibly on such a person; as it was on Christ, when he hung on the cross, in the room and stead of his people; for he was made a curse, not for himself, or for any sins of his own, but for us; in our room and stead, for our sins, and to make atonement for them.”

John Calvin brilliantly reflects on the Paul’s words to the Galatians in saying:

It is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. Now, Christ hung upon the cross, therefore he fell under that curse. But it is certain that he did not suffer that punishment on his own account. It follows, therefore, either that he was crucified in vain, or that our curse was laid upon him, in order that we might be delivered from it. Now, he does not say that Christ was cursed, but, which is still more, that he was a curse… If any man think this language harsh, let him be ashamed of the cross of Christ, in the confession of which we glory. It was not unknown to God what death his own Son would die, when he pronounced the law, “He that is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deuteronomy 21:23.)

He could not cease to be the object of his Father’s love, and yet he endured his wrath. For how could he reconcile the Father to us, if he had incurred his hatred and displeasure? We conclude, that he “did always those things that pleased” (John 8:29) his Father. Thus, “he was wounded for our transgressions…”

But what made the atonement so wonderful, so glorious, so benevolent, what made it an atonement at all, was, that innocence was treated as if it were guilty; that the most pure, and holy, and benevolent, and lovely Being on earth should consent to be treated, and should be treated by God and man, as if He were the most vile and ill-deserving. This is the mystery of the atonement; this shows the wonders of the Divine benevolence; this is the nature of substituted sorrow; and this lays the foundation for the offer of pardon, and for the hope of eternal salvation.