If the penalty of sin is eternal conscious physical torment, wouldn’t Christ have to still be suffering today in order to pay the debt?
As you know, the penalty for sin is death, which is eternal separation from God causing terrible mental, emotional and physical pain. It sounds like you’re asking, in light of this, how the penalty could have been paid by Jesus if He’s not suffering eternally. Jesus had really good blood, and that’s an understatement. As a member of the Godhead His blood held infinite value.
His blood was so valuable that it was able to be a substitute for us and propitiate for our sins once and for all without suffering eternally. One reason Hell is eternal is because we can never fully pay for our sins (as an aside, it’s possible, if not likely, those in hell continue to sin in rebellion while there). Our own blood is not enough to repay God all we’ve done against Him. We are unable to fully satisfy Him with our own blood or anything else on our own. That’s also why I can’t die and shed my blood to atone for someone else’s or my own sin – my blood isn’t pure/valuable enough to cover them. But Jesus’ blood wasn’t just perfect because He was sinless but also infinite because He was God. It didn’t take eternity for His blood to fulfill the price for us because His blood is stronger than our sin. His life conquers our death. His resurrection was proof that He paid the price in full. The price of our sin is unfathomably high yet bridgeable, though only by God.
God exists outside of time, and thereby brings eternality into time when he enters it. Hence, Jesus was able to qualitatively pay an eternal price for sin even though in duration his suffering was not eternal.
God’s sufficiency and attributes of infinity and eternality, including his infinite holiness, allow him to satisfy the demands of his own righteousness, whereas the suffering of a fallen and finite creature can never be sufficient to pay his debt to the infinitely holy God.
Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.