“Christ escaped the curse of the law precisely by becoming accursed for our sake”

As the first-fruits of our renewed humanity, Christ escaped the curse of the law precisely by becoming accursed for our sake. He overcame the forces of corruption by himself becoming once more “free among the dead.” He trampled death under foot and came to life again, and then he ascended to the Father as an offering, the first-fruits, as it were, of the human race. “He ascended,” as Scripture says, “not to a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the real one, but into heaven itself, to appear in God’s presence on our behalf.” He is the life-giving bread that came down from heaven, and by offering Himself to God the Father as a fragrant sacrifice for our sake, he also delivers us from our sins and frees us from the faults that we commit through ignorance.

The human race may be compared to spikes of wheat in a field, rising, as it were, from the earth, awaiting their full growth and development, and then in time being cut down by the reaper, which is death. The comparison is apt, since Christ Himself spoke of our race in this way when He said to His holy disciples: “Do you not say, ‘Four months and it will be harvest time?’ Look at the fields I tell you, they are already white and ready for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving his wages and bringing in a crop for eternal life.”

Now Christ became like one of us; He sprang from the holy Virgin like a spike of wheat from the ground. Indeed, He spoke of Himself as a grain of wheat when he said: “I tell you truly, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains as it was, a single grain; but if it dies its yield is very great.” And so, like a sheaf of grain, the first-fruits, as it were, of the earth, he offered Himself to the Father for our sake.

For we do not think of a spike of wheat, any more than we do of ourselves, in isolation. We think of it rather as part of a sheaf, which is a single bundle made up of many spikes. The spikes have to be gathered into a bundle before they can be used, and this is the key to the mystery they represent, the mystery of Christ who, though one, appears in the image of a sheaf to made up of many, as in fact he is. Spiritually, He contains in Himself all believers. “As we have been raised up with Him,” writes Saint Paul, “so we have also been enthroned with Him in heaven.” He is a human being like ourselves, and this has made us one body with Him, the body being the bond that unites us. We can say, therefore, that in Him we are all one, and indeed He Himself says to God, His heavenly Father: “It is my desire that as I and You are one, so they also may be one in us.”

St Cyril of Alexandria

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4 Responses to “Christ escaped the curse of the law precisely by becoming accursed for our sake”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Commentary on Numbers 2: PG 69, 617-24

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  2. I have been thinking of your posts regarding universalism and the hope we have of a great love of God than has been imagined. With this post, the thought occurs to me — what if Christ became the covenant curse for all mankind, thus opening the doors of Paradise again for all men?

    Scripture seems to show two distinct covenant structures — the corporate covenant and the personal covenant. The high priest administers the corporate covenant on behalf of all mankind as God’s people, or congregation, and the priest administers the individual covenant on behalf of those who have sinned.

    If Christ as our Great High Priest became that covenant curse (all covenants have blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience), and He offers an eternal Yom Kippur in the “tabernacle not made with hands” (Hebrews) then mankind is freed from the curse as a whole, and it only remains that each individual must come to God with the specific and appropriate offering — which again is Christ Himself – for His sins.

    Just ruminating here. I really appreciate your thoughts and posts, Father.

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  3. Dante Aligheri says:

    Well, that is a reading N.T. Wright and Scott Hahn have both forwarded insofar as the Adamic “curse” of spiritual death (itself a microcosm of the wider cosmic covenant broken by the fallen angels) is borne out on behalf of Israel in Adam, placed under the authority of the Torah and thus re-enacting the fall of Adam in itself through the Exile, uniting Israel with Adam in death, and the nations which are in Adam under the authority of death and fallen, primordial principalities and powers who stand behind idolatry. So the fallout from both covenants, Edenic and Mosaic, is spiritual death resultant of the Shekinah leaving the Jerusalem Temple. Christ enters that situation with us much as the Temple is contaminated by sin and the scapegoat bears that situation in itself to the realm of death, the desert/Gehenna, under the dominion of Azazel, “lord of this world.” Jewish apocalyptic like the Apocalypse of Abraham sometimes framed it in terms of celestial garments of immortality, themselves a referent to priestly and angelic garments, a motif also found in Enoch and early Christian literature and Paul when he speaks of putting on Christ, so that Azazel receives the mortality of Abraham and Abraham goes like a pure sacrifice to ascend into the heavens, having been prepared to be ‘consumed’ like an ascendent sacrifice and capable of entering that realm, like Enoch. Christ, in a sense, fulfills both roles – descent and ascent, like the High Priest who ascends to the Holy of Holies and, literally, up Mount Zion/Gerizim as mediator just as the smoke of sacrifice ascends like a mediator.

    In the Near East, sin was personified as demonic forces that encroach upon the dwelling place of the Deity enthroned at the head of creation. So too did the principalities and powers encroach or indeed organize the Cross only to be defeated. In another sense, the blood of Christ is the other sacrificial animal whose blood cleans out the Temple, which is a microcosm of the world. Now there is some debate about the exact signification of blood at Yom Kippur whether it is a cleansing agent or a reaffirmation of the covenant with Abraham and thus a sacramental sign.

    What Hahn tries to do is situate within covenant sacrifices subsidiary meanings so that a sacrifice is an oath-sign of meal communion (its original meaning), shared and thus family-building substance between Deity and sacrificer, if accepted worthily, and a sign of curse if either of the parties defaults. But sometimes I think Hahn’s emphasis on sacrifice as oath possibly misreads the simpler idea of invocation meal, placing the emphasis on the death where sacrificial acts usually focus on the life substance. Jonathan Klawans wrote an excellent book on the interpretive issues of sacrifices.

    Of course, I think one of the dangers is symbolic overload. Should it be situated as within Yom Kippur and Cosmic Enthronement, heavily laden with creation and flood-judgment imagery, or within Passover? Because Passover has a whole different group of symbols. In Passover, God “redeems” Israel – that is, “purchases” it out of slavery to Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods; as Exodus states, God also passes judgment on the gods of Egypt. In the new Passover, Adam is redeemed from slavery to his old gods and exile from Paradise and Israel from the curse of the Torah realized in the Exile, and God passes judgment on the principalities. The blood of Passover seals the Israelites from the Angel of Death and marks them out as God’s firstborn. Israel has been brought out of death – literally, having “descended” into spiritual slavery in Egypt, “cut off” from their afterlife communion with their ancestors (cf. Herbert Brichto in “Kin, Cult, Land, and Afterlife”) – and brought to life. So, in the Jewish “Joseph and Aseneth,” the Gentile idolater Aseneth is spiritually dead in Egypt, enacted in her self-mourning ritual in the story just as Jacob and his family “died” to their old gods by burying them and purifying themselves, but brought to theosis with the Holy Spirit given in the angelic version of the Bread of the Presence. But here in the Passover the role of sacrifice is latent at best. Some have suggested the slain animal be seen as a commemoration of Isaac and the original covenant with Abraham so that the Passover invokes the unconditional oath to Abraham, and the covenant protects them from death. Then Christ’s sacrifice would align with the re-establishment of Israel in himself and the fallout of Israel’s covenant, per Hahn’s suggestion, but this is tentative.

    So, I would agree, but I like to complement, for myself, the legal overtones of covenant with other meanings like organic family and blood adoption, the cosmic binding together of creation in Genesis 1 together with the angels in this family, and mimetic death freeing from slavery to “the flesh” and idolatrous principalities. Covenant curses can sometimes sound like propitiation if read in too much of a legal sense.

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    • Well, yes, I understand your hesitancy to frame the work in propitiatory understanding. I think there is room to see that the curse, rather then being a legal judgment, was the corruption of man’s nature and the sickness of sin (which is in line with the Eastern view). Christ’s covenant work then becomes curative rather than judicial, i.e., He takes on the curse of our natures in His human nature, His obedience fulfills what Adam lacked fulfilling, and as a result, we see Him not only as the Last Adam, but the one who heals our broken natures as we enter into union with Him.

      If we can look at covenant from the viewpoint of union/love rather than law/judgment, I think it still works and allows for theosis and a covenanted structure.

      I think that any of the five principles of covenant can work within this framework.

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