(22)A Comprehensive Study of Word-Faith Doctrine(2)
by MORENO DAL BELLO
CLAIMS OF A SPIRITUAL DEATH
There are many Faith movement leaders, and a growing number of charismatics, who claim that Jesus Christ needed to die spiritually in order to complete our redemption. Kenneth Copeland is one who holds to this tenet, and the following statement made during a taped sermon will give the reader a clear insight into his thoughts on the matter. Copeland proclaims most vehemently that:
“The death of Jesus Christ was not a physical death alone. If it had been a physical death and a physical death only, Abel would have paid the price for the sins of mankind. He’s the first man that died because of honoring God in His Word….Every prophet that walked the face of the earth under the Abrahamic covenant could have paid the price if it were a physical death only.” 20
That Jesus died spiritually, is a key doctrine so vital to the Faith movement that many of its leaders have pronounced divine judgment on any who dare question it. Kenneth Copeland, in commenting on one minister who rigidly opposed the teaching, states, “That fellow is dead today. Now I said that to warn you. Don’t criticize people for preaching (Identification). If you don’t understand it, keep your mouth shut and pray.” 21 My suggestion is that you pray and study the Word of God with diligence to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). The spiritualization of Jesus’ death strikes at the heart of the true Gospel, and must be seen for what it is, an heretical doctrine.
Both Copeland and Hagin are strong advocates of the spiritual death theory, as is evidenced by the following quotes. First, Kenneth Hagin states: “He (Jesus) tasted spiritual death for every man. And His spirit and inner man went to hell in my place. Can’t you see that? Physical death wouldn’t remove your sins. He’s tasted death for every man. He’s talking about tasting spiritual death.” 22 By claiming that physical death would not remove our sins, Hagin is in conflict with everything that the Bible teaches concerning the blood atonement (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). Copeland agrees with his mentor: “Now it wasn’t the physical death on the cross that paid the price for sins, because if it had’ve been, any prophet of God that had died for the last couple of thousand years before that could’ve paid that price. It wasn’t the physical death. Anybody could do that.” 23
With such an abhorrent declaration, Copeland flies in the face of everything the Bible teaches concerning the death of our Lord, and also ignores what the Church has believed and taught on the death of Christ for nearly two thousand years. Not to mention the great cloud of witnesses in the Bible who attest to the fact that only Jesus’ spotless (sinless) sacrifice could have made our redemption possible (Acts 4:12; Acts 10:43; 1Tim. 2:5,6). Copeland’s blasphemous statement dispossesses the Lord Jesus of His unique role in history.
One of the reasons the Faith movement believes in a spiritual death of Jesus, is because of their view that all disease is of a spiritual origin, therefore, the method that God uses to heal must be spiritual as well. The conclusion arrived at is that the atonement had to be a spiritual and not a physical act. The concept of physical disease having a spiritual origin comes straight from the metaphysical cults.
There are many verses in Scripture which attest to our redemption being fully accomplished by the physical death of Jesus. For example ” …we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10; cf.Rom. 7:4; Col. 1:22; 1Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 4:1). No mention is made in the Bible of this mythical spiritual death. Galatians 3 also teaches that it was His physical death on the cross that did away with the curse.
Another passage which strongly supports the efficacy of Christ’s physical death is Colossians 1:20-22. In this passage we notice the following, “And having made peace through the blood of His cross…” v20; and in v22 we are told, ” …yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death…” What other death could a body of flesh experience apart from a physical death? These verses could not speak in a more unmistakable manner concerning the kind of death that Jesus suffered. How can any Christian say and believe in his heart that it was not a physical death alone which secured our redemption in light of these verses?
One Scripture which is highlighted by Kenneth Hagin, in support of the spiritual death theory, is Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” Hagin’s claim is that the words I am a worm and no man, refer to the spiritual death of Christ. In an article entitled Christ our Substitute, from the March 1975 issue of The Word of Faith magazine, Hagin says, “He utters the strange words, ‘But Thou art holy.’ What does that mean? He is becoming sin…His parched lips cry, ‘I am a worm and no man.’ He is spiritually dead–the worm.” The words in the Psalm mean nothing of the kind! Hagin’s statement is a prime example of eisegesis as opposed to exegesis. This passage simply refers to Jesus having been ridiculed and considered a worm and not a man during His life on earth, and especially during His time upon the cross. If one reads on in this passage from Psalm 22, it will be seen that verses 7 and 8 contain words familiar to the Gospel of Matthew 27:39,43 (see also Mark 15:29,30; Luke 23:35). Jesus was slandered during His life. He was despised and accused of being in league with Beelzebub (Matt. 10). Even in His sufferings upon the cross He was ridiculed and cursed, taunted and made sport of. “David was sometimes taunted for his confidence in God; but in the sufferings of Christ this was literally and exactly fulfilled.”24
Rather than alluding to a spiritual death of Christ, Psalm 22:6 is actually another verse which speaks of His physical death. Henry M. Morris, in his book Sampling the Psalms, provides us with a fascinating insight into the Hebrew word for worm (tolath), and its frequent use in the O.T. to mean scarlet (e.g. Ex. 25:4), or crimson (Isa. 1:18). The reason he gives for this equivalence is due to the scarlet worm being the source of a fluid from which people of ancient times made their scarlet dyes. This prophetic verse in Psalm 22 is Christ’s own portrayal of His body stained crimson by the cross (cf.Col. 1:20). Morris explains:
“…no doubt the deeper significance of His identification of Himself as the Scarlet Worm lies in the remarkable life-death cycle of this unique animal. For when the mother worm of this species is ready to give birth to her baby worms, she will implant her body in a tree somewhere, or a post, or a stick of wood, so firmly that she can never leave again. Then, when the young are brought forth, the mother’s body provides protection and sustenance for her young until they reach the stage where they can leave home and fend for themselves. Then the mother dies. And as she dies, the scarlet fluid in her body emerges to stain her body and the bodies of her progeny and the wood of the tree where they were given life by their dying mother.” 25
What an amazing analogy we have here of Christ’s crimson-stained body upon the tree.
The Faith movement also contend that when Jesus uttered the heart wrenching words, “My God, My God. Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46), He was speaking of a separation between Himself and the Father. God, it is affirmed, had to turn His head from the Son when He ‘became sin’. In the next chapter we’ll learn of the Faith leaders’ monstrous teaching that on literally becoming sin, Jesus actually took on the satanic nature in His own spirit and that it was at this precise moment that God turned from Him and Jesus was heard to cry the words found in Matthew 27:46, thereby heralding His spiritual death.
There are many Bible teachers, aside from the Faith leaders, who teach that God hid His face from His sin-laden Son. Psalm 22:24, however, repudiates the belief that God had hidden His face from His Son on the cross. You’ll notice that it states just the opposite, “For He has not despised, nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him for help, He heard.” Jesus was not forsaken in the sense that He ceased to be the second Person of the Trinity, for He and His Father are one (John 10:30). Christ’s spiritual relationship with the Father can never be broken. “…as God poured out His wrath and judgment upon Jesus, He (Jesus), sensed that His fellowship with the Father was severely hindered.” 26 Jesus was not aided on the cross as He had been at the Mount of Temptation and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43).
The alleged spiritual death of Christ and what exactly this teaching entails, will be looked at in finer detail in the succeeding chapter. Suffice it to say, that whatever Jesus meant by his words, “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”, Jesus did not for a moment cease to be God either before, during or after His time on the cross. Though, in our finiteness, we are not able to understand the full import of Jesus’ statement, we may be certain that it did not mark the moment of His ‘spiritual’ death, nor does it signify the Father’s having abandoned Him (John 16:32).
Not all Faith movement leaders agree that the cross was the location of Christ’s ‘spiritual death’. Frederick K.C. Price believes that His spiritual death occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says, “Somewhere between the time He (Jesus) was nailed to the cross and when He was in the Garden of Gethsemane–somewhere in there–He died spiritually. Personally, I believe it was while He was in the garden.” 27 An interesting sidenote concerning Mr. Price is that he was reared in a Jehovah’s Witness environment. Also worth noting is the fact that the above spiritual death teaching is the same opinion that James E. Talmage, an apostle of the Mormon Church, taught in his book, Jesus the Christ!
It is quite obvious to the Bible student that Jesus Christ, in His physical death, achieved all that was needed to be achieved in order to gain the redemption of mankind. Ephesians 2:15, “Having abolished in the flesh the enmity…”, and Hebrews 10:10, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”, are just two verses which confirm this fact.
The Faith movement has another verse, probably the chief text, which is utilized to support their double-death theory. Faith movement leaders have made a grave error in their interpretation of Isaiah 53:9, “He made His grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death…” It is noted that the Hebrew word for death in this verse is in the plural form, deaths. This is taken as proof that Jesus suffered a double-death, physical and spiritual upon the cross! There is much at fault in this misinterpretation, not the least of which is the fact that it is based upon one word taken from one verse of Scripture. McConnell explains the use of the Hebrew plural in this text:
“Plural nouns are extremely common in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are not just used to denote numerical plurality, but also to emphasize a particular meaning of the noun. In Hebrew, plural nouns express majesty, rank, excellence, magnitude and intensity. In Isaiah 53:9, ‘deaths’ is a plural of intensity used by the writer to indicate that the death mentioned was a particularly violent one. It no more means that the king of Tyre died two deaths than that the Messiah died two deaths.” 28
Another example of this is found in Ezekiel 28:8-10, which depicts the violent and certain death of the king of Tyre: “you will die the death of those who are slain.” Keil and Delitzsch, in their Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 7, Isaiah, inform us that in both the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages, the plural form for death is an example of pluralis exaggerativus: “it is applied to a violent death, the very pain of which makes it like dying again and again.” I’m sure the reader will be familiar with the Eastern phrase, “You will die a thousand deaths”. It does not mean that you will literally die more than one death, but speaks instead of the intensity of that one death.
The truth of what did happen to Christ’s spirit may be clearly seen in passages such as Luke 23:46, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My Spirit” (cf. Matt. 27:50; John 19:30). He yielded up His spirit to God, and then breathed His last. He gave His body for us, and committed His spirit to God. His spirit did not die.
Gloria Copeland makes the following proclamation concerning the ‘death’ of Christ’s spirit, “He (Jesus) paid the price for Adam’s sin. He suffered in His own body, and more important, in His own spirit. Jesus experienced the same spiritual death that entered man in the Garden of Eden.” 29 This is an extremely unenlightened statement to say the least. The spiritual death of man came because he had sinned. Jesus was no sinner, as I’m sure Mrs. Copeland would agree. He suffered but one death and it was a physical death. Jesus spoke often of His impending physical death, yet never once did He refer to a spiritual death (Mark 9:31). Notice also in her statement how Christ’s physical suffering is considered not as important in comparison with His spiritual suffering. When error is mixed with truth, it quickly becomes the more prominent of the two. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
Jesus Himself told us to remember Him by partaking in the body and blood; both, you will notice, are physical matter not spiritual (cf. Luke 22:19,20; 1Cor. 11:24-26). In 1Corinthians 11 we are told that as often as we eat the bread and drink the cup we are proclaiming the Lord’s death till He comes. You’ll notice that it is only one death which we proclaim, not two. This Scripture speaks of His physical death. This is the death we are to remember Him by. He suffered only one death on the cross, the death of His flesh, the only death He became obedient to (Phil. 2:8).
It is interesting to note, in considering the teaching that Jesus died spiritually, the marked absence of any element which symbolizes this death at the Lord’s supper. The bread–a symbol of His body–and the wine–symbolic of Christ’s blood–are clear reminders to us of Christ’s physical death (see 1Cor. 10:16; Heb. 10:19-24). We observe no element at the Lord’s supper which is used to put us in remembrance of his ‘spiritual’ death, for the simple reason that Jesus did not die spiritually. Jesus spoke of laying down His life in John 15:13, not His Spirit.
In John 6:51, Jesus describes Himself as, “…the living Bread which came down from heaven, and the bread which I shall give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” This is the Jesus of the Bible speaking! He speaks not of giving His spirit, as does the jesus of the Faith movement, but rather HIS FLESH for the life of the world. The Greek word flesh denotes the body as opposed to the soul or spirit.
There are a multitude of Scriptures that verify the fact that Christ’s death upon the cross was purely a physical death. Here are just a few for your private study: John 2:19-21; Eph. 2:15; Col. 1:22; Heb. 10:10; 1Pet. 2:24; 3:18; 4:1.
THE SATANIC NATURE
The Faith movement claims that at the Fall, Adam and Eve lost their Godly nature and were infused with the very nature of Satan. In this chapter we will be looking at the validity of such a claim, as well as the contention that our Lord Jesus took upon Himself the satanic nature when He died ‘spiritually’.
Contrary to what the Faith movement believes, Adam and Eve were as distinctly human as you and I are. Their nature was not replaced by that of Satan’s, rather it was damaged or distorted at the Fall. The Bible still refers to man, even after the Fall, as being made in the image of God (Gen. 9:16; 1Cor. 1:7; Jas. 3:9). Calvin pictured the image of God in man as shattered after the Fall, yet as with the reflection of one’s face in a cracked mirror, a distorted image of God’s glory can still be seen in mankind today.
Kenneth E. Hagin believes that, “spiritual death means something more than separation from God. Spiritual death also means having Satan’s nature… Jesus tasted death–spiritual death–for every man.”30 Hagin also writes, “…just as receiving eternal life means that we have the nature of God in us, spiritual death means having Satan’s nature.” 31 Does eternal life mean that we have the nature of God in us? Does spiritual death mean that we have the nature of Satan? And where does human nature fit into all this? Let us turn to the Scriptures for some words we can depend upon. Paul spoke the following words to those who were of the opinion that he and Barnabas were gods, “Sirs, why do you do these things? we also are men of like passions with you…” The word passions here is translated, of like feelings or affections. The revised Version has the word nature in the margin. Here was Paul, a born-again man of God saying that he had the same affections, the same nature in fact as those who were yet unsaved heathen. No satanic or Godly natures here. According to Paul, they were all of one nature, human. Paul was saying that he and Barnabas were not to be treated as gods, for their nature was as the nature of men. It is also clearly taught in the Scriptures that when a man is born-again, he does not put off a satanic nature, but in fact put’s off the old man. Accordingly, he does not put on the divine nature, but simply a new man (Eph. 4:24; cf. Eph. 2:10; 4:22). Note that both are human natures, the former fallen, the latter redeemed. Michael Moriarty, author of the book The New Charismatics, writes:
“Although people are born in sin, or born with a sin nature, there is no evidence that they are born with a satanic nature, or that a sin nature is equal to a satanic nature. Saying that humans have Satan’s nature makes them little more than demonic entities imprisoned in human bodies. This sounds more like Scientology than Christianity. While people are born with sinfully corrupt natures, all are still made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9), not in the nature of Satan …when Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:44, ‘You are of your father the Devil’, he was referring to their spiritual and ethical bankruptcy, not to their ontological union with Satan….Human beings are born with a sin nature, but are made in the image of God. They are not demonic spirits clothed in flesh. The teaching that humans have the nature of Satan is an unbiblical deposit from the fertile imagination of E.W. Kenyon. It is not taught in Scripture.” 32
The Faith movement adopts 2 Corinthians 5:21 to substantiate their claim that Jesus literally became sin upon the cross, and by doing so, took upon Himself the very nature of Satan. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” What Hagin does not seem to realize is the fact that, if Jesus had taken upon Himself the satanic nature, He too would have needed a Saviour. Hebrews 1:3 says in part, “He had by Himself purged our sins…” How could He have accomplished this if He had literally become sin? (cf. Heb. 9:14).
According to Romans 8:3, Jesus was sent by the Father in the likeness of sinful flesh, or with the nature of man yet without any sin. It was human nature without any of its sinfulness. Albert Barnes comments, “The atoning sacrifice was made in the likeness of sinful flesh that thus He might meet sin, as it were, on its own ground and destroy it.” 33 In order to understand 2 Corinthians 5:21 properly, we need to take a closer look at the word sin as it is used in this verse, a verse which is central to the Faith movement’s satanic nature theory. Hank Hanegraaff helps us in our comprehension:
“…scholars agree that the word ‘sin’ in this passage is used in an abstract sense. They are virtually unanimous in pointing out that the phrase ‘to become sin’ as used here is a metonym (a word or phrase substituted for another associated word or phrase), for Christ ‘bearing the penalty of our sins’. Expositor, T.J. Crawford, maintains that ‘there can be no doubt that the expression is metonymical, since it is impossible that Christ, or any person, could be literally made sin’.” 34
The verse teaches that Christ has been considered as though He were a sinner. As with the lamb in the O.T. sacrificial system, sin was imputed to Christ. According to Isaiah 53:4,5, the sin of man was laid to the account of Christ. Our sin was imputed to Jesus, and His righteousness was imputed to our favour. The Levitical concepts of both substitution and imputation will ably assist us in understanding more accurately the true meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21. The reason Christ’s sacrifice was acceptable to God was because He was without blemish, i.e., without sin. Prominent commentator Phillip E. Hughes writes:
“But God made Him sin: that is to say that God the Father made His innocent Son the object of His wrath and judgment, for our sakes, with the result that in Christ on the cross the sin of the world is judged and taken away. In this truth resides the whole logic of reconciliation….Not for one moment does he cease to be righteous, else the radical exchange (the just for the unjust 1Pet. 3:18), envisaged by the apostle here, whereby our sin is transferred to Him and His righteousness is transferred to us, would be no more than a fiction or an hallucination.” 35
God treated Christ as if he were a sinner, just as He now treats the Christian as if he had never sinned. If Jesus had literally become sin, His offering would have been unacceptable to God. The N.I.V. has 2 Corinthians 5:21 footnoted with the translation, ‘or be a sin offering’. Michael Moriarty grants us an even deeper insight into the word sin:
“The Hebrew term for ‘sin’ and ‘sin offering’ is one and the same. The Hebrew term, hatt’t can be translated either ‘sin’ or ‘sin offering’; the context determines the meaning. When hatt’t was used in reference to the O.T. animal substitute (which remained holy before and after its death), it was understood by the Jewish people as a ‘sin offering’. The same is true in reference to the Greek term for ‘sin’, harmartia, in 2Cor. 5:21. The apostle Paul, a Hebrew of Hebrews, clearly had sin offering in mind and not literal sin….The O.T. sin offering did not typify something ‘sinful’ at death to the Jews as Hagin and other charismatics depict Christ; it typified ‘a sinless sacrifice for sin’. Jesus did not become unholy on the cross, but was a holy sin offering who ‘gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma’ (Eph. 5:2).”36
Insistence upon Christ’s sinful nature on the cross is evidence of the Faith movement’s ignorance of the Levitical image of the substitutionary sacrifice. According to the O.T., a sin offering, being a substitute, was required to be perfect and unblemished (Lev. 4:3,28; 9:3; cf. Deut. 15:21). The animals chosen for the sin offering were, according to Leviticus 4:32, a bull without defect; Lev. 4:23, a goat without defect; Lev. 4:32, a lamb without defect (see 1Cor. 5:7, Jesus as the Paschal Lamb). The one offering up the sacrifices would place his hand on the beast, signifying a symbolic transfer of sin and guilt (Lev. 4:4, 24,33; see Isa. 53:6 “…and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” cf.John 1:29). Death was then inflicted vicariously upon the sacrifice (Lev. 17:11). The atonement, or covering of the sin, was what God saw rather than the sin. With the sin covered or atoned for, the sinner was made free from his sin. If this imputation of sin upon the offering were to render it unholy, causing it to literally become sin, it could never have been accepted by a Holy God. The sin offering which was to be killed was called holy, and anyone who touched or ate of it also became holy (Lev. 6:25-27,29). “The sacrificial animal did not become sin; sin was symbolically imputed to it. It was a substitute for sin; a holy offering that atoned for sin by virtue of its perfection and consecration to the Lord.”
A sin offering was to be WITHOUT DEFECT!! What made Jesus’ offering acceptable to God was that His was a sinless offering, a Holy and unblemished offering to God. How could Jesus have literally become sin when Hebrews 9:14 tells us that He offered Himself “without blemish to God”. ” Leviticus 6:25-29 clearly shows that the sin offering was “most holy” to God both before and after its death! 1Peter 1:19 describes Christ as …a Lamb without blemish. “Without blemish (anomos),” says J.N.D. Kelly, “recalls the Jewish requirement that such an offering must be faultless,” and, “spotless” (aspilos) emphasizes “that in Christ’s case the faultlessness must be understood in terms of sinlessness and holy consecration.” 37
The jesus of the Faith movement literally became sin; and had literally taken on the nature of Satan. How could this have been a sacrifice holy unto God (Eph. 5:2)? Kenneth Copeland, in a recorded sermon, has correctly stated, “He went to the cross as the spotless Son of the living God.” 38 Although Copeland here makes the truest of statements, he then makes the following contradictory claim on the same taped message, “He accepted the sin nature of Satan in His own Spirit…” Obviously Copeland believes that although Jesus went to the cross spotless, He did not remain so. What we have here is a truly horrific picture; a blend of both satanic and divine natures resident in the eternal Son of God. This is the gospel according to Kenneth Copeland. As with the O.T. offering, Jesus was Holy unto God both before and after His death. There is nothing in Scripture that even remotely suggests anything to the contrary.
If there are those who are still not convinced that Jesus did not literally become sin, perhaps Isaiah 53:12 will persuade you. God says here that “…He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sins of many…” Again, in Isaiah 53:11, God says of His Son, “…for He shall bear their iniquities…” (cf.1Pet. 2:24). Jesus carried our sins, He did not become them. Jesus is also referred to in v.11 as God’s Righteous Servant.
Not only does Kenneth Copeland teach that Jesus literally became sin on the cross, he also adds another dimension to this perverse theology, by insisting that Jesus became a sign of Satan upon the cross! Copeland expounds:
“The righteousness of God was made to be sin. He accepted the sin nature of Satan in His own Spirit. And at the moment that He did so, he cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ You don’t know what happened at the cross. Why do you think Moses, upon instruction from God, raised the serpent upon that pole instead of a lamb? That used to bug me. I said, ‘Why in the world would you want to put a snake up there–the sign of Satan? Why didn’t you put a lamb on that pole?’ And the Lord said, ‘Because it was a sign of Satan that was hanging on the cross.’ He said, ‘I accepted, in My own spirit, spiritual death; and the light was turned off.'” 39
One would suspect that the only light that has been turned off is the one inside Mr. Copeland. Not only does he teach this blasphemous concept, but he dares attribute these words as having been uttered by God Himself! The Scriptures that are used to support this unholy doctrine come from Numbers 21:8, 9 and John 3:14. Copeland makes the erroneous comparison of Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and Moses’ lifting up of the bronze serpent on the pole in the desert, as proof that Jesus had taken on the satanic nature, the serpent being the symbol of Satan. The reality that these two passages show is simply the manner of Christ’s death i.e., His being lifted up on the cross. Jesus said that He would be “lifted up from the earth”, and, Scripture says, that He said this …signifying what death He would die (John 12:32,33). John 3:14, is where Jesus gives Nicodemus an analogy between the lifting up of the serpent–something he would have been familiar with being a Jewish teacher–and His own death. Moriarty explains:
“In Numbers 21 we are told that the rebellious Israelites were plagued by fiery serpents that killed off many of the people. Moses interceded with God on behalf of those who repented of their sins, and God directed him to make a bronze serpent and elevate it on a pole. All who were bitten by a poisonous serpent could look at the bronze serpent and live (see Num. 21:5-9). The bronze serpent did not produce the healing, it was merely a symbol that reminded them of their sin and the divine judgment sent to punish their sin. It was the saving grace of God in response to the genuine faith of the repentant Israelites that brought deliverance. They believed God’s Word and obeyed His command and were healed. By turning from their sins and trusting in God’s specific provision for deliverance, the Israelites felt as if they received a new surge of life and had been born all over again. Jesus uses this profound story of deliverance to illustrate God’s provision for receiving spiritual life. The elevation of the bronze serpent on a pole in the midst of the camp of Israel is a picture of Jesus Christ being elevated on the cross (Jn 3:14,15)….Nicodemus would have been thoroughly confused if he understood Jesus to be teaching that He would soon become united with the Devil on the cross. In fact, by analogy, if Jesus became a ‘serpent’ in nature as Copeland and his followers teach, then healing was provided by Satan, the Serpent, in Numbers 21 and not by God, since healing came as they looked to the elevated bronze serpent.” 40
The final Scripture we shall be looking at which is used by Faith teachers to bolster the idea that Jesus had taken on the satanic nature is 1Timothy 3:16, “…God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit…” Kenneth Copeland believes the verse teaches the following, “In 1Timothy 3:16, God was manifested in the flesh and justified in the Spirit. Now you can’t get somebody justified and made righteous in the spirit if it (sic) wasn’t first unrighteous. The righteousness of God was made to be sin.” 41 (Notice how Copeland subtly adds the words made righteous in his commentary). Jesus’ being justified in the Spirit means nothing of the kind. This Scripture is simply telling us that Christ’s claims of being the Son of God were justified or vindicated by the Holy Spirit. A recognized authority on the Greek New Testament, Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, makes this observation:
“The two phrases in 1Tim. 3:16 must be taken together: ‘God was manifest in the flesh,’ that was His Incarnation. And then immediately after that we read, ‘justified in the Spirit.’ This means that through the manifestation of the Holy Spirit which came upon Him, His claims for Himself as the God-Man were confirmed” (Matt. 3:16; Rom. 1:4).
He was also shown to be right by His holy life, and because of His resurrection. The New American Standard Bible says that he was ‘vindicated by the Spirit.’ New Testament scholar, William Hendrickson, sums it up best when he says, “Not everyone saw His glory. ‘He was despised and rejected of men’ (Isa. 53:3). By His enemies His claims were denied, and He Himself was cast out (Heb. 13:12). But by the Spirit He was vindicated: His own perfect righteousness and the validity of His claims were fully established.”
Any teaching that would take from the eternal righteousness of Jesus Christ, is anti-Christian and is to be shunned by every true believer.
REDEMPTION IN HELL?
The Faith leaders hold that the work of redemption was not finished upon the cross, but was rather completed in the bowels of hell. As was mentioned earlier, they believe in the ancient Ransom Theory and have added a few new ideas of their own. Their claim is that Jesus was tortured in hell by the Devil and his demons, and that this was the ransom price which God paid to Satan in order to enable Him to resume His place in the universe from which He had previously been banished. It was Kenneth Hagin who first introduced this teaching into Faith doctrine, though he was not the originator of it. E.W. Kenyon first embraced this lie after being influenced by numerous Metaphysical cults such as Unity Thought.
Kenneth Copeland, who began his ministry by memorizing the sermons of Kenneth Hagin, gives his version of what ‘really’ happened, “When Jesus cried, ‘It is finished!’ He was not speaking of the plan of redemption. There were still three days and nights to go through before He went to the Throne….Jesus’ death on the cross was only the beginning of the complete work of redemption.” 42 Again, we are confronted with a direct and open attack on the effectiveness of Christ’s physical death upon the cross, a subject of which the Bible speaks clearly. It is curious how many Christians would normally recognize a teaching such as this as being heretical, and a direct assault upon the central doctrine of the Church, yet when it is preached by people who claim Jesus as their Lord and quote the Bible, most remain in a numbed silence. I would remind Copeland and his devotees that our redemption is through Christ’s blood–His physical death (Col. 1:14; cf. Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:12). Christ’s physical death marked the end of His work. There is no such thing as the cross and…
Robert Tilton, currently facing a variety of lawsuits in America, assures us that our redemption was accomplished in the pit of hell. He says, “For three days and three nights He (Jesus), was in the pit of hell, breaking the powers of darkness to set us free.” 43 The danger of such a teaching is realized in the fact that it shifts the central focus of the Christian away from the cross, and not to it. It also implies that the powers of darkness were not conquered at the cross as the Bible clearly teaches (Heb. 2:15). The following statement is a prime example of the focus being shifted from the cross to hell. Frederick Price, who has added his own ‘twists’ to faith theology, has this to say:
“Do you think that the punishment for our sin was to die on a cross? If that were the case, the two thieves could have paid your price. No, the punishment was to go into hell and to serve time in hell separated from God….Satan and all the demons of hell thought that they had Him bound and they threw a net over Jesus and they dragged Him down to the very pit of hell itself to serve our sentence.”44
By urging that our redemption could have been paid by the two thieves if the punishment for our sins was to be the death of the cross, Price demonstrates a distinct lack of ability to comprehend the significance of what occurred upon Calvary’s hill. This Faith movement doctrine, without a doubt, qualifies the Faith leaders as advocates of a different gospel. The late Paul Billheimer was another Faith teacher who promoted this tenet. He once gave this abhorrent account of what happened on the cross, and then later in hell:
“Because He (Jesus) was ‘made sin,’ impregnated with sin, and became the very essence of sin on the cross, He was banished from God’s presence as a loathsome thing. He and sin were made synonymous….It was not sufficient for Christ to offer up only His physical life on the cross. His pure human spirit had to descend into hell….His spirit must not only descend into hell, but into the lowest Hell….The Father turned Him over, not only to the agony and death of Calvary, but to the satanic torturers of His pure spirit as part of the just dessert of the sin of all the race. As long as Christ was ‘the essence of sin’ He was at Satan’s mercy in that place of torment….While Christ identified with sin, Satan and the hosts of Hell ruled over Him as over any lost sinner. During that seemingly endless age in the nether abyss of death, Satan did with him as he would and all Hell was ‘in carnival’.” 45
To believe this fable, one would have to do away with several passages from the Bible, not to mention its most major doctrines such as the sovereignty of God and the fact that Jesus is the same (in essence), yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). Billheimer introduces us to an almighty Satan and a hell where, amidst all the agonies and torments, demons are able to party and celebrate and be ‘in carnival’! He also teaches that the cross just wasn’t enough, that more was needed to be done if mankind was to be fully atoned for. This line of teaching is a sure and reliable sign that the ones promoting it are not professing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, however strongly they may hold to such beliefs; however sincere their intentions.
Another Faith teacher who believes in the rejoicing in Hell theory is Charles Capps, a man who believes Jesus was the product of God’s Positive Confession;
Here are his thoughts on the matter:
“In the place of the wicked dead, all the demons of Hell and Satan rejoiced over the prize. The corridors of Hell were filled with joy. ‘We’ve done it! We’ve captured the Son of God! We’ll no longer be in the pit of the damned! The earth and all that is therein is ours! Forever it will be ours!’ Rejoicing in hell had never been so great as it was that day. But it was short-lived.” 46
Capps speaks as though rejoicing was a daily occurrence in Hell! My Bible speaks of that place in no other way but a place of darkness and indescribable agony. Where Capps has acquired such ‘knowledge’ is any ones guess, I only know that he didn’t get it from the Bible. Jesus did not need to go to hell at any time to conquer the enemy, for that task was achieved on the cross (Col. 2:15). Satan was defeated on the cross! The jesus of the Faith movement had to go to hell and suffer at Satan’s mercy. The true Jesus, the One Supreme Commander of the hosts of heaven (1Pet. 3:22), completely triumphed over Satan and his minions upon the cross (cf. Heb. 2:14,15). Jesus bore our sins in His body ON THE CROSS, not in hell! The cross was not just the place where Jesus died, but was His Mount of Triumph! Here are just some of many Scriptures for Faith movement adherents to follow up: John 19:30; Col. 2:13-15; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:20,21; cf. Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:25; 5:9; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 9:22; 13:12; 1Pet. 1:19; 1Jn. 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 5:9.
A valid question that may be asked at this juncture is: Did Jesus ever enter into Hell? It is of a certainty that Jesus went into Paradise to be with the Father (Luke 23:46), and not with Satan to Hell. Hades was a place separated by a great chasm, on one side there were those in torment, and on the other those at rest in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16).
1Peter 3:18 has often been applied as proof that Jesus did in fact enter Hell and preached the Gospel to its inhabitants. Closer examination shows this to be a presumption. Though vv.18-20 is a difficult passage, one thing is clear–Jesus did not preach the Gospel to those prisoners. The original Greek word for preached as used in v.19 is ekeruxen. The correct translation is that He proclaimed His great victory over the Devil, sin, death and all evil, and that this news reached even the bowels of hades. The Vines Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, says it is a proclamation of His victory made after His resurrection to fallen angelic spirits (cf. 2Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). “Recent scholars teach that the resurrected Christ, during His ascension to heaven, proclaimed to imprisoned spirits His victory over death. The exalted Christ passed through the realm where the unbelieving spirits reside, or where the fallen angels are kept, and proclaimed His triumph over them (see Eph. 6:12; Col. 2:15).” 47 Moreover, there is nothing in this passage which describes the spirits mentioned as being human.
The teaching that claims Jesus preached the Gospel to those in hell, was set forth as early as the 2nd century by Marcion and the Shepherd of Hermes, who were espousers of the purgatory lie. The Roman Catholic Church erroneously teach that Jesus went into Purgatory (a temporary place of torment), to deliver the imprisoned spirits of men.
Both Copeland and Hagin would have us believe that Christ was a prisoner of hell, yet this passage in 1Peter 3 says only that Jesus preached to the prisoners, not that He was one. Though it is difficult to fully comprehend the meaning of the passage, it is clear that there is no mention at all made of Jesus suffering in hell, or of being tormented by Satan in the pit of darkness.
One source of support that the Faith teachers employ to add credence to their redemption in hell theory, is the fact that some ancient Christian Creeds make mention of Christ’s descension into hell. The phrase descended into hell, did not appear, however, in such Creeds as the Apostle’s and Athanasian until the 4th century and was not included in the originals. One can be sure that neither the early Church fathers or the writers of the Creeds did not, for one moment, believe that Jesus suffered in hell under the direction of Satan.
Another of the more frequently used texts implemented by Faith leaders as proof of Jesus’ descension into hell, is Matthew 12:40, “…so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” The Jewish use of the word heart was to indicate the interior of a thing or of being in it. Here it is referring to the grave or tomb. The verse is simply speaking of Jesus’ body in the tomb, and can in no way be considered by the serious Bible student as evidence that Jesus went into hell and there suffered its torments.
“Now that he ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9). This verse is speaking of Christ’s ascension into heaven after His resurrection and 40 days on earth, and His initial descension to earth from heaven as the Incarnate God. Some see this as denoting Jesus’ humiliation in enduring death (see Phil. 2:6-8). Others believe it refers to hades (the underworld). The most likely interpretation is that of Christ’s coming to earth in His incarnation. The key to understanding this passage is that His descension to the lower parts of the earth is contrasted with His ascension far above the heavens (Eph. 4:10; see also Isa. 44:23). Importantly, the contrast is between heaven and earth, not heaven and hell (cf. John 3:13,31; 8:23). The Faith movement conveniently interpret lower depths as a reference to hell, and then add their innovative idea of Christ’s having been tortured by demons.
Interestingly, David uses the same expression, lowest parts of the earth, in Psalm 139:15ff. David here states that he was in fact made in the depths of the earth. If the Faith movement is correct in their interpretation of this phrase as referring to hell, then we must conclude that David was created in Hell! Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. The passage in Psalm 139:15,16 is purely a metaphor for the deepest concealment i.e., the womb (cf.Eccl. 11:5).
Acts 2:31, “…His soul was not left in Hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (cf. Acts 2:27), is another verse used to show that Jesus did enter the portals of Hell. This verse is taken from Psalm 16:10. The King James Version has the word hell, though a more accurate translation would be sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek. Sheol is used 65 times in the O.T., yet seldom is it used to denote a place of torment. The customary meaning is, realm of the dead, meaning the state of death or the grave (cf. Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 1Sam. 2:6; Psa. 141:7). As in the O.T. Hebrew, the N.T. Greek term for hades is usually interpreted the realm of the dead. According to Luke 16:23,25 hades may mean a place of torment, though it may equally be described as a place of rest, in Abraham’s bosom.
Acts 2:27, “…neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption”, is an obvious reference to God’s refusal to allow the body of Jesus to undergo the normal process of decomposition. Jesus’ body was not to return to dust nor even begin to see corruption, but was to be restored to life. The earlier part of the verse says, “…Thou wilt not leave My soul in Hell…” The term My soul here may mean nothing more than Me or Myself. In other words, Thou wilt not leave Me in the grave. A more precise meaning would be breath, life, a living being (see Psa. 11:1; 35:37; Job 9:21). Throughout Scripture the word soul is nowhere used to mean a separate state, or separated from the body.
Acts 2:24 is another verse which the Faith movement has taken to show that Jesus did suffer the pain and torments of hell. It says, “Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death…” Pains of death, or pangs of death has the meaning here of the Hebrew, the cords or snares of death (cf.Psa. 18:4; 116:3; 2Sam. 22:6), or the cords of sheol (Psa. 18:5). Albert Barnes writes:
“The word translated ‘pains’ denotes, properly, the extreme sufferings of parturition, and then any severe or excruciating pangs. Hence it is applied also to ‘death’, as being a state of extreme suffering. A very frequent meaning of the Hebrew word, of which this is the translation, is ‘cord’ or ‘band’. This perhaps was the original idea of the word; and the Hebrews expressed any extreme agony under the idea of ‘bands’ or ‘cords’ closely drawn, binding and constricting the limbs, and producing severe pain. Thus death was represented under this image of a ‘band’ that confined men; that pressed closely on them; that prevented escape; and produced severe suffering (see Psa. 119:61; Isa. 66:7; Jer. 22:23; Hos. 13:13)….We are not to infer from this that our Lord suffered anything after death. It means simply that He could not be held by the grave, but that God loosed the ‘bonds’ which had held Him there, and that he now set Him free who had been encompassed by these pains or bonds, until they had brought Him down to the grave.” 48
Despite efforts by several concerned Christians to speak with Kenneth Copeland, he remains resolute in his beliefs. The Bible speaks of Jesus’ having made Himself obedient to death (Phil. 2:8). Copeland adds to this truth by teaching that Jesus also became obedient to Satan, “He allowed the Devil to drag Him into the depths of Hell as if He were the most wicked sinner who ever lived. He submitted Himself to death. He allowed Himself to come under Satan’s control….For three days in the belly of the earth, He suffered as if He’d sinned every sin that exists.” 49 Again, we see here a subtle blending of the truth with error, of the “leaven with the dough.”
The best way to answer these outrageous claims is for me to allow the words of Jesus Himself to speak and defend the truth. Jesus said that, “…the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me” (John 14:30). This verse speaks of the innocence of Christ. Satan had no ground by which to destroy Him. Jesus experienced physical death upon the cross because of His willingness to die, not because of any legal ground Satan had. According to Luke 22:53, Satan was permitted to do his worst, to employ his authority for a time. Jesus however was not dragged into hell by Satan, there is no Scripture that will substantiate this claim. Jesus became obedient to the death of the cross, for it was God’s eternal plan and that the Scriptures might be fulfilled (cf.Isa. 63:16; Eph. 1:3; 2Tim. 1:9,10; 1Pet. 1:18-20; Rev. 13:8).
In this next passage, Jesus shows clearly whose ‘lordship’ was to be prominent at the cross, “…I lay down My life that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment I have received of My Father” (John 10:17,18; cf. Jn. 2:19). No man–or devil–took Jesus’ life from Him, He laid it down voluntarily. Jesus says that He has power to lay His life down, and power to take it up again. These words show plainly that Jesus was sovereign over His own death. He was in full control. Anything Satan did at Calvary’s hill, was permitted him to do. Jesus was divine and remained divine even after the death of the cross. No dead man has power to revive himself, only God can restore life, only God can raise the dead. Jesus reveals here that He had the power to take it again, to restore life to His body, thus demonstrating the unchangeableness of His eternally divine essence.
Now back to a statement made earlier by Kenneth Copeland concerning Jesus’ final words upon the cross, “It is finished”. Copeland asserts that, “When Jesus cried ‘It is finished!’, He was not speaking of the plan of redemption….Jesus’ death on the cross was only the beginning of the complete work of redemption.” Astute readers will notice that Jesus’ words were, “It is finished”, and not, it has just begun! The Greek word for this term is tetelestai, which means it is paid; the debt has been paid in full. “The finality of Jesus’ accomplishment upon the cross is made crystal clear by the tearing of the temple curtain that veiled God’s earthly sanctuary, the holy of Holies, from man, thus signifying that access to God had been restored at that precise moment” 50 (Mark 15:38; cf. Heb. 9:1-14; 10:19-22). Likewise, noted Bible scholar Merrill C. Tenney says, “The use of the perfect tense in ‘It is finished’ signifies full completion of Jesus’ work and the establishment of a basis for faith.” 51
Copeland and some charismatics refute this by believing that the final words of Jesus were merely the announcement of the close of the Abrahamic covenant. Scripture, however, does not speak of the Abrahamic, but rather the Mosaic covenant of the law as being the one fulfilled, or brought to a close, in Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross. “The law of sacrifice, which provided an atonement for sin, had been given to Moses at Mount Sinai, not to Abraham. It was the Mosaic covenant of the law and sacrifice that was fulfilled and done away with at the cross by the atoning sacrifice of Christ, as the New Testament clearly states” 52 (Matt. 5:17-19; Col. 2:13, 14; Heb. 8-10).
The Faith movement openly teach a different gospel. They teach a redemption not fully achieved upon Christ’s cross of triumph, but one which was fulfilled in the pit of Hell. Hank Hanegraaff alerts us to:
“The fact…that virtually every cult, in one way or another, denies the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through the sinless sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The Bible plainly states that your eternal salvation rests on what you personally believe about the blood atonement of Jesus Christ. It is at the cross–not in Hell–that your salvation is either won or lost. And that is precisely the problem with the most notorious of the Faith teachings. These teachings have transferred the saving work of Christ from the cross to the deepest dungeons of hell.” 53