Well, the old hymn says “double cure” — and some Church of Christ publishers have taken even that out, surmising that the phrase refers to, well, I don’t really know.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Anyway, it occurs to me that Jesus, in his death, took on three distinct curses.
* The curse on all Creation of Gen 3. See Rom 8:18-23; Rev 22:3 (KJV, NASB, NIV, NET).
* The curse of Deu 27-28 on Israel for violating the Mosaic covenant. The new covenant of Jer 31:31 ff (and Heb 8) refers to God removing this curse by the Spirit’s work to write God’s law on our hearts and in our minds in line with Deu 30:6. Jesus announced the “new covenant” when he initiated the Lord’s Supper, referencing Jer 31:31 ff and, implicitly, the entire chain of passages that hang on Deu 30:6, such as Jer. 32:39; Ezek. 11:19-20; and Ezek. 36:26-27.
* The curse of the Law of Moses on those hung on a tree (Deu 21:23; Acts 5:30; Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 2:24).
Strange that I’ve never heard anyone speak in these terms. It’s not uncommon to hear about Jesus’ reversing the curse of Gen 3, but the other two curses just don’t make it into our teaching, even though the other two are actually far better attested in the scriptures.
Fung explains the connection of the second two curses together as well as I’ve been able to find —
Christ in his death is described as “having become a curse” (RSV, NASB) … . In the LXX both Dt. 27:26 (quoted in v. 10) and Dt. 21:23 (quoted in v. 13) begin with words based on the same verbal stem (“curse”): 27:26 pronounces a curse (epikataratos, verbal adjective) upon everyone who fails to render perfect obedience to the law, and 21:23 declares to be accursed (kekatēramenos, perfect participle) everyone who hangs upon a tree (or pole). By bringing these two texts together and interpreting the latter in terms of the former, Paul understands Jesus’ death on the cross (to which a curse was attached according to Dt. 21:23) as a bearing of the curse of God incurred (according to Dt. 27:26) by all who fail to continue in obedience to the law.
Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 147–148.
While it is true that being hung on a tree was not the curse itself but rather the public proof that the one so impaled had incurred the curse, the clear inference of the New Testament is that the death of Jesus by crucifixion was not a quirk of fate but instead the deliberate design of God. …
The only explanation could be that the Messiah had willingly taken upon himself the dreaded curse that rightly belonged to others. Here, in nuce, is the genesis of the Christian doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. Indeed, as Stott has suggested, it may well have been reflection on the very text Paul cited in Gal 3:13 that led the early Christians to understand the death of Jesus in this way. “The apostles were quite familiar with this legislation [Deut 21:22–23], and with its implication that Jesus died under the divine curse. Yet, instead of hushing it up, they deliberately drew people’s attention to it. So evidently they were not embarrassed by it.
Timothy George, Galatians, The New American Commentary, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 30:238-240.
So Jesus took on the curse of the Torah — that violating Torah would bring a curse upon Israel — and his hanging on the cross (a “tree”) demonstrated his accursedness. Indeed, the very purpose of Jews’ hanging an executed man was not to kill him or to curse him but to declare him already accursed. And the curse Jesus took on was the curse of Israel’s violation of the Law — thereby bringing an end to the Exile and inaugurating the Kingdom.
Of course, the Gentiles were not subject to this curse. They were already cursed by the curse of Gen 3. In theory, the Torah gave the Jews a way to escape the Gen 3 curse and been deemed righteous. But they failed and so suffered exile and the curse of the Law.
Jesus also dealt with the curse of Gen 3 —
(2Co 5:21 ESV) 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus was sinless but was cursed as though he’d sinned. The curse that comes from sin (that is, any sin, not just a Torah violation) is the curse of Gen 3.
Sin is to “miss the mark.” The Eastern Orthodox figure — correctly, I believe — that the “mark” is Jesus as the perfect Image of God. To sin is to be fail to be like Jesus. (Jesus therefore could no more sin than he could be unlike himself!)
Nonetheless, he took on the penalty for sin — of Israel and of the Gentiles — so that “we” — the apostles (in this passage) — could become the “righteousness of God.” God’s righteousness, in Paul, is his covenant faithfulness — and Paul’s job as an apostle was to announce that God was keeping his promises through Jesus, especially his promise to credit faith/faithfulness/ trust as righteousness (covenant faithfulness by us!) for both Jews and Gentiles, because Jesus had taken on the curses that kept us apart from God.
… 2 Corinthians 5:21 is not about ‘the Messiah’s righteousness’, but about ‘God’s righteousness’; and it is not about ‘imputation’, but about Paul and those who share his apostolic ministry ‘becoming’, that is, ‘coming to embody’, that divine ‘righteousness’ as ministers of the new covenant.
N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 4:951.
The whole point of the ambassadorial system, in the ancient as in the modern world, is that the sovereign himself (or herself) speaks through the agent. Paul stresses this: ‘God is making his appeal through us’. It should therefore be no surprise that in his summing-up he should refer to himself as ‘becoming’ the ‘righteousness’, that is, the ‘covenant faithfulness’, of God. If that covenant faithfulness was revealed climactically in the death of Jesus Christ, as Paul says in Romans 3:21–26, it is natural that the work of one who speaks ‘on behalf of Christ’ (5–20 [bis]) should also be such a revelation, especially when the one so speaking is also acting out, in his own physical body, that same death (4:10, etc.). If Paul as an ambassador has any inadequacies, they are dealt with in the death of Christ; if he has a message to deliver, it is because he has become, by the Spirit, the incarnation of the covenant faithfulness of God.
N. T. Wright, Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978–2013, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 74.
In short, Paul and the other true apostles become the righteousness of God — displays of God’s covenant faithfulness — because sinless Jesus has taken on our sin. Implicit in this, of course, is that the church takes on the apostolic mission. We Christians should also become the righteousness of God — that is, people who are true to God’s covenant, seeking to bring salvation to those who, like us all, don’t deserve it.