At the heart of the Reformation was a rediscovery of the gospel of the cross of Christ. We see this in one of the rallying cries of the Reformation, solus Christus (Christ alone). Central to the cross is Christ becoming a curse for us. Let’s see what some of the Reformers had to say about Christ becoming a curse for us on the cross.

We adapted these comments from the Reformation Commentary on Scripture. Compiled from sermons, commentaries, confessions, and treatises of the Reformation, this resource is perfect for understanding how the Reformers interpreted Scripture.

Christ Redeemed Us by Becoming a Curse for Us

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.’

Galatians 3:13


The hidden uncleanness of the heart is taken away only by faith in Jesus Christ. The law aims to be kept, but this cannot happen except through grace. Therefore, it forces us to seek grace, which is why all of us who lack the grace of faith are under the curse of the law. . . . Christ was made a curse not because he had done anything wrong but because it is the general verdict of the Scriptures that anyone who is hung on a tree has been cursed by God.



Paul does not say that Christ became a curse on his own account but that he became a curse for us. He is innocent in himself and should never have been crucified. His punishment came because he took our place, and that is why he died the death of a thief—it is we who are the thieves!



The form of our redemption consists of this, that Christ was made a curse for us. The abolition of the law is the abolition of the curse of the law and by extension of the right, dominion, tyranny, accusation and condemnation of that same law. The abolition of the law does not include the abolition of the Ten Commandments as a locus of testimony and thanksgiving. It is the ceremonial and judicial laws that have been abolished in their literal sense. Christian freedom is the assertion of freedom from the curse, right, dominion, tyranny, accusation and condemnation of the law. The purpose of our redemption, of the abolition of the law and of Christian freedom is the removal of the curse of the law, the imparting of Abraham’s blessing to the Gentiles and the reception of the Holy Spirit by faith.

The way we attain those ends consists in the faith that believes that Christ is our redeemer, that he is the one who has abolished the law and given us Christian freedom, for those reasons. Our redeemer, the one who has abolished the law and proclaimed Christian freedom, is Christ. “If the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.” . . . To say that Christ has become a curse for us is nothing other than to say that he has taken our curse and our sins on himself and suffered for them, not that he himself was cursed or a sinner.



How can it be that the blessed seed of Abraham could become a curse? It was impossible for a blessing to become a curse, but Christ is said to have become a curse because he took on himself the accursed punishments of the law in order to pay the price of our sins. As far as he was concerned, he never committed any sin, and so there was no curse laid on him. But as far as we are concerned, Christ took on himself the punishment for our sins . . . Christ also took on himself the punishment that is the horror of hell, saying, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” Given that there is nothing more abominable or cursed than that horror, it is very rightly said that Christ became a curse for us because he took that punishment on himself for our sins.

From this you can see that in this verse Paul is writing a commentary and exposition of the passion of Christ. He strengthens us in all adversity and above all he teaches us how we can stand before the judgment seat of God. . . . When our accuser says, “You are a sinner, and therefore you deserve not only to suffer sickness in the flesh but also to be hung up on a tree” the response will be, “I agree that I deserve that curse, but Christ has redeemed me from it, because he himself has become a curse for me. He redeemed me not because I do not deserve to suffer such external blows but because they have no right to harm me.”



Christ was hanged, which means that he came under the curse, but not because of anything he had done to deserve it. Either he was crucified for nothing, or else our curse was laid on him so that we might be delivered from it. Paul does not say that Christ was cursed but that he was a curse, which means that the curse of everyone was placed on him. How can a beloved Son be cursed by his Father? Here there are two things to be considered, not only in the person of Christ but also in his human nature.

The one is that he was the spotless Lamb of God, full of grace and blessing. The other is that he took our place and became a sinner, subject to the curse, not in himself but in us, in a way that made it necessary for him to act in our name. He could not be outside God’s grace, but he endured his wrath. How could he reconcile the Father to us if he regarded the Father as an enemy? How could he have freed us from God’s wrath if he had not transferred it from us to himself? Therefore he was smitten for our sins and knew God as an angry judge.


JESUS PAID OUR DEBT – Wolfgang Musculus

Paul does not say that God became a curse along with us but that he became a curse for us. It is one thing for one debtor to find himself in the company of other debtors but quite another for someone to become a debtor for the sake of others. Someone who owes something must pay what he owes and cannot offer himself as a guarantee for others unless he first pays what he owes. But someone who owes nothing himself can take on the debts of others and make himself a debtor in their place. This is what Christ did. He who lived a blessed life in eternity and in whom there was no room for a curse transferred the curse of those who were cursed by the sentence of the law to himself and was made a curse not together with them but instead of them.

It is impossible for him to be under the same curse as we are, and it is impossible for us to be cursed along with him. Someone who is a debtor on another person’s behalf cannot be a debtor along with them, nor can they be tied to debts with him. What has happened is that they have been set free from their debts because they have found a friend who became a debtor on their behalf. So when Christ becomes a curse for us it can hardly be that we should be cursed any further. Rather, we are set free from the curse because he has taken our curse on himself. This is why Paul was careful to say not simply that he was made a curse but that he was made a curse for us.



Paul says that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law because he has been made a curse for us. This verse is especially memorable because in a few words the apostle summarizes everything that can be said about the matter of our redemption.

The first point is that we should understand that we need a redemption that has been effected by someone else.

Whenever we think that we can do this by ourselves we either make up superstitions or else accept superstitions invented by others. For this reason the apostle confirms what he has said before, when he mentions our redemption, and says that we need it because we have become subject to a curse because of the law. This must always be the starting point whenever we talk about eternal salvation. Even the pagan philosophers recognized that we must come to an understanding of our own sinfulness, which is the beginning of true wisdom, and they inscribed the words of Thales, “Know thyself,” on a sacred column at Delphi. Those who do not know themselves either neglect their salvation because they feel they have no need of it or else come to terms with it by getting wrapped up in endless superstitions.

Second, we must cling to the one who redeems us.

In that context Paul names the one and only Christ and says that glory is due to him alone. The unanimous consensus of Scripture teaches this. If you start with the first promise that was given to our first parents, when God said that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head, you realize that this cannot refer to anyone else other than to Jesus Christ, who was conceived in the womb of the Virgin without intercourse with a man. Being born of her as a man, he overthrew the kingdom of the devil by the merit of his death and delivered us miserable sinners from his tyranny.

The same may be said about the blessed seed that the Lord promised to Abraham, who was none other than Jesus Christ, as Paul will show in due course. Likewise the entire cultic system of the law, which God gave to his people through Moses, led only to Christ. In that system there was only one temple, not many, one altar, one place of sacrifice, one table, one candlestick, one ark and one mercy seat, all of which foreshadowed the one Jesus Christ, who alone was sacrificed for our sins, who alone is the light of the world and the bread of life, in whom alone God has opened the treasures of his grace and shown his favor to us.


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