JESUS became ‘CURSED’ for us through the means of His DEATH: "If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God." (Deut. 21:22-23)
As Moses was expounding the miscellaneous laws to the Israelites, he explained about what should happen to an Israelite who has committed a gruesome crime worthy of death. The punishment for that person is that he/she should be “put to death”. Stoning was the approved means of execution in those days for the Israelites. However, in order to make this instance as a public example, Moses commanded that this executed criminal, who was already dead (killed through stoning), was to be hung on a tree as a stern warning to all the other Israelites that breaking God’s laws was indeed costly.
The fact of the matter was that hanging was not a method of execution among the Israelites. The guilty person was not hanged by the neck, and this form of execution was not practiced in ancient Israel. The hanging mentioned above was actually an impaling of the corpse for public viewing after death by stoning. Through this public display of the dead man hanging on a tree, everyone would be made aware that such sins worthy of death should not be committed any more and bring guilt on the community. Thus, hanging on a tree was not a means of execution but only to display an executed criminal as a warning to others. This person was under God’s curse because of disobedience to God’s commandments, and this rule was called as ‘the law of public display of executed criminals’!
Let us understand that hanging was also imposed as an additional disgrace after death (John 19:31). There are several examples of people hanged in this manner in the Old Testament (Josh. 8:29; 10:26, 27; 2 Sam. 4:12; 21:8, 9). If the bodies of criminals like these were hanged as a public display, they were not to remain in that state overnight for the curse of God visited on the guilty individual would then be applied to the whole community (vv. 22–23). These bodies were objects that were cursed by God, and would in turn defile the whole land of Israel if they remained overnight in that exposed state (Lev. 18:24–27; Num. 35:33, 34).
According to Jewish teaching, a person who had been killed “by hanging on a tree” (or, crucifixion) was “accursed of God” (v. 23b; Acts 5:30). This form of death was so repulsive to the Jewish people that they refused to even discuss it openly. The crucifixion has been a major stumbling block for many people, preventing the Jewish nation from accepting Jesus as the Messiah. It was Apostle Peter and the other apostles who had boldly declared to the Jewish Council: "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree" (Acts 5:29-30).
However, it was the Apostle Paul who expounded the crucifixion of Christ in clearest terms: “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23, 24). He further seized upon verse 23 to demonstrate Christ’s penal substitutionary death on behalf of all sinners: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:13-14).
The point of Apostle Paul’s argument was that Jesus Christ, though innocent, died a criminal’s death, taking the curse that we all deserved. Just as the corpse of the criminal was under the curse of God, so Christ hanging on the Cross bore the judgment of God, the same shame as every condemned criminal. By taking upon Himself the curse of the Law, He has redeemed us from that curse. Today, let us thank God for His ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. James Montgomery has captured the essence of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross through the following poem that will enable us to thank Him profusely:
To Him who suffered on the tree
Our souls at His soul’s price to gain,
Blessing and praise and glory be;
Worthy the Lamb, for He was slain!