Author: Wendy Goubej
Summary: God came to Earth, lived a human life, suffered an inhumane death at the hands of the very people He created, and then conquered death by rising again to life. What purpose did His death have? Scripture gives six key reasons why Jesus died.
Everyone seems to have a different opinion about why Jesus died. We believe that the Bible gives several reasons for Christ's crucifixion:
1) Jesus' death fulfilled part of the plan to atone for the sin of the human race, to pay the price of our sin so we don’t have to (Isaiah 53:5).
Jesus' death on the cross was the beginning of a great procedure to eradicate sin from this world and from our hearts. As a result of His death and resurrection, Jesus could enter into the heavenly sanctuary to begin making atonement for our sins.
Jesus’ resurrection was only possible because of His life, not His death. So many talk about His birth, and some talk about His death, but what about the years in between? The entire time He was on Earth, Jesus lived a sinless life. He lived it as a human, not as God. If we are truly connected to God, we can do the same miracles He did while on Earth (John 14:12). Jesus spent hours in prayer with His Father and nothing He did was on His own (Luke 6:12, 9:28, 11:20, 22:39-45). He lived a life consecrated to God, and so can we. His life was an example of how to live a sinless life with God’s power.
If Jesus had sinned even once during His entire life, if He had given in to one wrong thought or the smallest temptation, He could not have been resurrected. Jesus did not die to show us what we all have to go through, or that death is “not an end,” as one letter to TIME magazine suggests. In fact, death was very much an end for us all. And it would have been for Him too, if He had not lived a sinless life. Jesus was constantly under severe attack by Satan, dogged at every step by harassment and temptation. In the wilderness, through reviling Pharisees, through ungrateful lepers, through angry mobs, even through Jesus’ own mother and brothers, Satan constantly tried to cause Jesus to sin. During the last hours of Christ's life, Satan tried the hardest. Every inhuman cruelty that Satan could conceive was hurled against Jesus. His demons worked overtime to cause Jesus to disbelieve in His Father, to give up, to speak one word of anger or hatred towards those that so cruelly mistreated Him, to sin in any small tangible way. But, thank God, Satan was unsuccessful.
God truly put everything on the line to save us. If Jesus had sinned in any respect, He, who was God, would not only have failed in securing our salvation, but also would have put the entire universe in jeopardy. Think about what would have happened if God, in human flesh as Jesus, had sinned? Satan would have had complete victory. No wonder the attack upon Jesus was so fierce. No other human, no matter how much they have suffered on this earth, had such a heavy responsibility as Jesus. The weight of the universe was on His shoulders. And as Jesus hung on the cross, Satan dared Him to not love. Jesus could have come down off that cross at any time. “He could have sent ten-thousand angels,” says the song. And so he could. But He didn’t. It was His love that held Him there. His love for you.
The truth is Jesus didn’t have to die. He chose to because that was the only way you or I could have been guaranteed a chance at eternal life. His perfect life is a free gift to all who accept to be covered by it. Sadly, although Jesus died for everyone, not everyone will be saved by His death. We must each accept His death and life in our stead. Even though we have sinned, God accepts the perfect life of His Son in our place, and we are considered righteous, even though we knew no righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
Romans 7:18 says that nothing good dwells in us. We are all sinners and guilty of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). This may not be a popular thought, but it is true nonetheless. Television preacher Robert Schuller teaches that, "What we need is to positivise the words that have only had a negative connotation. There is no greater damage that can be done than to refer to the lost sinful condition of man. I don't think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition."i
But Robert Schuller is wrong. We may not feel comfortable admitting our sinfulness, but the Bible tells the truth about our condition, and offers real solutions. If we aren’t lost or sinful, then we don’t need Jesus and He came in vain.
Jesus’ life and death are ours if we choose to accept them. Then as we walk in the newness of life that He offers, we are empowered to live as He did. Slowly but surely, as we submit daily to His Holy Spirit, our characters are changed into His image.
2) Jesus’ life helped us understand and re-establish our relationship with God. His life on Earth was a manifestation of what God is like (John 14:9).
Because of sin, people are separated from God (Isaiah 59:2). No longer could they and God talk together as Adam and Eve had done face to face. Through the centuries since Adam and Eve’s time, Satan has made desperate attempts to blind the human race. He presents God as being severe and unforgiving—just waiting and watching for every wrong move we make so that He can condemn us to eternal death. This picture of God was especially prevalent during the Middle Ages when Catholicism was the dominant religion.
But Jesus states that He came for the exact opposite reason: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus came to show us God’s love, and the lengths to which God will go to save us (John 3:16). His life of loving kindness and patience served to reestablish the character of God as one of goodness and mercy (Exodus 34:6). Satan hasn’t quit trying to get people to fear God and think Him evil and vengeful. Every time something bad happens on Earth, we tend to blame God for it. Satan has managed to get us to make God responsible for Satan’s own evil fruit. Satan has many deceitful ways to attack God’s character and this is just one of them. Another way is to make us think Jesus is just a nice figure from the past that died tragically and taught us a few good things about the “Christian spirit.” Satan doesn’t care how we misunderstand who Jesus is. He only cares that it happens.
3) Jesus' life, death, and resurrection reconciled us to God (Colossians 1:21-22).
It was because God's law could not change that Christ had to come down to die for us. If the law could be changed, God could have done just that in the Garden of Eden, and life could have gone on. But it could not be. Once the law was broken, there was an impassable rift between humanity and God, and we would continue to break the law from that day on. If God could modify that law to correct the situation, He would have. But the only way to reconcile us to God was to present Himself as a sacrifice to atone for our sin. Jesus’ death allowed us to be officially reconciled with God (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Before the cross, those that believed in the Messiah looked forward to His coming, in faith that He would make the atonement for them and win their eternal life. Abraham had faith that God would accomplish this very thing. We are privileged to live after the cross, because our salvation is an established fact of history. We have more information than Abraham and all the Old Testament people had. But still we fail to understand.
4) Jesus' life, death, and resurrection brought hope to sinful humanity so that we can have victory over sin and death both in our present lives and the eternal life to come (1 John 3:3; 4:4). We no longer have to be in bondage to sin.
If Jesus' death on the cross does not change our lives and our behavior, then He died in vain. We must not just acknowledge His death; we must accept it and all its implications for us. It requires of us a change of life: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life...Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:4,6).
When we accept Christ's sacrifice in our stead, we are given a new lease on life. Old habits and the thoughts and attitudes that held us in bondage can be removed if we permit the grace of Christ to effect a change in our life. God desires to give us a better life—a life of joy, peace, and freedom from sin (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ did not make the infinite sacrifice to secure for us the privilege of continuing to break the commandments of God. Sin is the transgression of the law, and the wages of sin is death (1 John 3:4; Romans 6:23).
The law is not meant to be a burden of heavy rules. It is the way of happiness. God does not say “thou shalt not...” because He wants to restrict our happiness and make life a drudgery. He tells us these rules because without them, we would truly be in misery. The endless pain and sorrow on this planet is a result of broken rules. When a child is hit by a drunk driver, or abducted and killed by someone bent on murder, we suffer the pain and sorrow of broken rules. If we learned to see God's guidelines as the door to happiness, we would be able to experience more joy and contentment.
To those who desire release from the bondage of sin, Jesus is the answer. Because He conquered death and sin in His life, death, and resurrection, we have hope and confidence that He can do the same in us.
5) Jesus lived as a man on Earth to identify with us and to help us trust Him with our problems.
Jesus took on the form of humanity so that no one can say that Jesus doesn’t understand. If God thought that we could get out from under the devil's torture in our own strength, He would not have sent His Son the way He did. If the Gospel is: “we sin, we die, we do right, we live,” then we could solve everything by our own good behavior.
Instead, He was born to unmarried parents so He could relate to everyone conceived out of wedlock, born in a barn so He knows what it feels like to be poor, went to Egypt so He knows what culture shock and living as a refugee is like, and lived in Nazareth so that He experienced the ghettos. He hung nailed to a cross unable to move so He can tell what it feels like to be in agony, trapped and helpless. He knows what rejection is (Matthew 27:46). He felt the burden of the sin of our lives so we never have to wonder if there is anyone who knows how we feel. He made a choice to feel our pain, so we would be safe to share our pain with Him—so we can trust Him and know He cares.
6) Jesus' life, death, and resurrection were part of the great controversy or war with Satan.
Jesus’ death seemed like Satan’s final victory blow, but Jesus’ resurrection was the triumphal display of victory over Satan. When Adam and Eve sinned, Satan won dominion of this world and his government reigned. As long as the Messiah had not yet come, Satan was an undefeated foe. Satan had hurled every possible cruelty upon Jesus, after which Jesus cried "it is finished," and died. But because Jesus resurrected from the dead, Satan became a defeated foe. The world that Satan once claimed as his has been reclaimed by Jesus.
Jesus is the only one that could redeem us from sin. Jesus is God. Before He lived on Earth, He had lived and worked with the Father in heaven and He loved us (John 1:1-3). When Jesus lived here on Earth, He linked Himself to the human race with ties that will never be broken.
Because of all this, we now can God's sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5-6). That doesn't mean we are mini-gods. It does mean, though, that we are privileged to be "adopted" into the family of God and to be viewed by God as though we had never sinned (1 John 3:1).
The most important thing to remember, however, is that Christ’s work is not finished! Just because He died on the cross to accomplish our redemption does not mean that He leaves us on our own. There are perhaps some that would prefer to keep Him as a tragic figure, a good example, or a hero that did a great deed, but that isn’t how it is. We need Him as much now as we ever did. He does not—He cannot—leave us just because He has gained the victory over Satan's hold on Earth and its inhabitants.
Satan, after all, is not gone yet. God promises to strengthen us in all our difficulties (Isaiah 41:10). He promises to be with us in the deep waters and fiery trails of life (Isaiah 43:1-2). And He promises to finish the work He started and bring us to a new place where there is no more sin (Philippians 1:6; Revelation 21:4).
Christ's job of atoning for our sin is not yet complete. We have not yet been reconciled with God to the point of Adam and Eve before sin. We don’t yet enjoy the company of God face–to-face in a world of peace with no death, pain, or sorrow. That is still to come. Today Jesus ministers for us in heavenly places, and His work in heaven is as important as His death on the cross.
Have you accepted Jesus as your Saviour and Lord? If you haven’t given your life over to Him, don’t waste another moment.