Galatians 3:13 (ESV) … “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…”
Shut up in an iron cage with no way of escape—that’s a fit description of the life of everyone apart from the grace of God. It is a good description of Israel of old. The whole nation was shut up in an iron cage with no way of escape. In fact, the Old Testament ends with the entire nation scattered among the nations of the world. And the only thing they can do is wait for God to show up and do something about their desperate situation. Thus they sing (in the words of the later hymn), “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
And after many hundreds of years Immanuel did indeed come. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those who were under the law” (4:4, 5). Or as Paul triumphantly declares in this passage, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (3:13).
I love the strength of this verse. Notice it does not say Christ tried to redeem us from the curse of the Law; nor does it say Christ made it possible for us to be redeemed from the curse of the Law. His statement is much heartier and full blooded. Paul was convinced that Christ accomplished something definitive on the cross. His death was entirely effective; he accomplished precisely what he wanted to accomplish: he redeemed his people from the curse of the Law.
But how did Christ redeem us from the curse of the Law? He did it in a way that was, in the words of one of the twentieth century’s most famous theologians, “almost unbearably severe.” He accomplished redemption by doing the unthinkable: “by becoming a curse for us” (3:13). Now for a pious Jew like Paul this would have been a horrific thought, blasphemous even. Jesus had been nailed to a tree that we now call the cross. And the Law clearly states, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (3:13b; cf. Deuteronomy 21:23).
He who knew no sin became sin, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). What a remarkable twist to the story! It’s like a heart surgeon who realizes the only way his patient will survive is with a heart transplant; so the surgeon voluntarily gives his own heart, his very own life, to save his dying patient.