Unveiling the cross
had to died
If you want to understand why Jesus died, you have to understand what would have happened if Jesus had lived…
Why did Jesus die?
“And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
--1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Jesus died for two reasons that are very closely related and intertwined together:
I. Historical reason WHY
II. Biblical reason HOW
I.) Historical reason - He died because He was King …and judgment would be postponed to the future
I have often wondered to myself throughout my Christian life how exactly did Jesus pay for our sins by dying on the cross. The answer came to me after many years after I asked the question a slightly different way. When I asked myself, “What would have happened had Jesus lived?” the answer became much more apparent and easier to understand.
So why was Jesus crucified in the most basic terms? In the most basic terms He was crucified because He claimed to be a king in the face of the world’s most powerful government at the time--the Roman Empire. In fact, the official charge against Him written on a sign in three languages and hung on his cross by a representative of that government, Pontius Pilot, identified Him for the record for all the world to see as, “Jesus of Nazareth, the KING OF THE JEWS”.
II.) The Biblical reason: He died to take our sins from us and provide a way of salvation
So Jesus was crucified because He was king. But what does that mean? It must be understood what it meant to be king of the Jews. Jesus was not just an ordinary earthly king like any the earth had ever seen before. He was king of the Jews. He was the promised, prophesized king that was to come. He was the messiah. He was the head of his own kingdom. And that kingdom was not like any other kingdom that the world had ever seen before. His kingdom was to be an eternal kingdom. It would not have physical borders determined by rivers, or lines, or mountain ranges, or land masses. It would not be confined to a single continent, but it would be worldwide. Neither would its citizens be of one race of people or of people of a certain genetic makeup. Its citizenry would not be determined by the physical biology of flesh and blood or their DNA but by the spiritual make-up of their minds and the faith they held in their heart. And this kingdom would not even be confined to a certain time period or generation of people. Jesus was to be King of this, an eternal everlasting kingdom that would span all human beings, all land, all continents, all countries on the entire globe throughout all time, generation after generation, for as long as the earth should endure. He was the king of God’s never ending, eternal kingdom.
And last but not least, this kingdom would be a kingdom based upon righteousness.
And so this kingdom’s king must be righteous Himself. And anything not righteous would have to be removed. Sin would have to be judged, condemned, and removed.
So Jesus was a king. He was not an ordinary earthly king. He was an eternal king, He was a righteous king. In fact, He was a sinless king. He was perfect. What’s more-- He was God in the flesh. The very creator of the universe Himself in human form. So if He were to have lived He would have become king. And being king of a righteous kingdom would have meant that sin would have had to have been judged. Let’s face it, this world has a lot of sin that would not have been able to have been ignored. So if Jesus had lived He would have been a perfect sinless, righteous king—head of an eternal righteous kingdom. Any sin in it or by its citizens would have had to have been judged and dealt with. The problem was—and it was a rather BIG problem was that all its potential citizens were guilty of having committed sin. If sin was to be judged fairly and completely (and it would have to be by a perfect, righteous and sinless king) no one would be left to inhabit the kingdom.
So one might say, at least from a mere human perspective, that this situation created a dilemma. How was this righteous kingdom going to be if it had no one in it? Sin would have to be dealt with and in so doing it would disqualify any future membership. If Jesus had lived and become king this was what it meant for Him as king.
But there was one other option. To populate his kingdom, sin could be forgiven.
So then why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn’t He just forgive and it would be done? Well, remember God is perfect. When God does something He does not do it half-baked or go off half-cocked. When God does something He does it completely. He does it perfectly. He does it so it is absolute. Had Jesus just forgiven within the confines of His own mind, the world would have never known anything happened. No, forgiveness would have had to have been demonstrated, proven, and displayed for the whole world to see in order that people would know it was Jesus who would have to be sought in order to attain forgiveness.
At one point in the ministry of Jesus a crowd wanted to take Jesus and make him their king by force. But Jesus slipped away from them and went off alone by Himself. Those people did not understand what would have happened had Jesus actually become king because they still did not understand completely who He was and what being king would have meant. Basically it would have meant Jesus would have had to judge the world and its people for it sins.
Judgment day would have commenced and the world would have been brought to an end. Jesus would have had to do then what He will do when He returns the second time.
Those that had lived and died up to that point in time would have been condemned. And anyone who has lived in the past 2,000 years would never have been born. You and I would not exist. So by dying, Jesus quite literally saved the world. Judgment was postponed until far off into the future.
But Jesus did not want to take His rightful place at that point as the king of the universe. If He had He would have had to judge the world. And He did not want to do that…yet. First He wanted to provide forgiveness to those that would believe in Him and obey His message. So how was He to provide forgiveness?
Remember I said when God does something He doesn’t do it half way? He does it completely. He does it perfectly. He does it so it is absolute. In order to avoid becoming King and judging the world for its sins there was one thing Jesus could do. There was one thing that would demonstrate and absolutely prove that God was willing to forgive men of their sins by completely giving up the right to judge--
He could die…
A dead king cannot judge.
Jesus had the right to judge. He was sinless.
He had the authority to judge.
He had the power to judge.
But He gave up all those things.
So by dying, Jesus was literally putting the Law itself to death.
And this is what the Jews have such a hard time understanding to this day. They look for their Messiah to be conquering and all victorious, all authoritative and powerful. Jesus was all that. He had to be because without it He would have had nothing to sacrifice by dying. He would have had nothing to give up. His death would not have been any different than any other person who was a sinner and so became subject to death for their own sins.
But Jesus was immortal and eternal. How could he die?
He chose to surrender his life.
Unless He chose to lay His life down.
Unless He willingly gave it up.
But being sinless eternal God He could not experience death.
He had no sin. He was not subject to death.
He took on sin……
But He had no sin….
So He would have to get sin from somewhere else…other people’s sins….our sins…my sins…your sins.
And this is the other thing He did by dying on the cross: He actually paid for and took on our sins, and not just one sin or some sins. All sins of all mankind ever committed or would be committed in the future. He did not just die for some sins of all people or all the sins of some people. The bible says “He died once for all.” (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, 9:12,26, 10:10) The Bible says His sacrifice was PERFECT (Hebrews 10:14). He died for all sins of all people…for every single sin of every single person who has ever lived or ever would live. God is just. He is fair. He does not show favoritism. (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6) So that meant it was an all or nothing proposition. God had to be willing forgive all sins or none of them.
And in so dying, by giving up His life and subjecting Himself to death, He forgave mankind of their sins and saved those that had died up to that point and how He saved a future world that would not have ever come into existence. That is how He saved the world past, present, and future--His death for our sins.
And in order to prove to the entire world that this forgiveness was available God raised Jesus from the dead. His death was an execution carried out by the most powerful secular authority on earth which acknowledged His Kingship and displayed His death for the entire world for all of history to see so that it was absolutely undeniable.
Jesus lived like no other man ever had. Jesus died like no man ever had. And Jesus came back from the dead like no man ever had.
His sacrifice on the cross is what makes salvation possible for any human being who will repent of their sins and follow Jesus the rest of their life by putting their faith in his death, burial, and resurrection—accomplished through His work on the cross.
Our physical bodies are not immortal. When Adam and Eve sinned their bodies became mortal and since then we all inherit from them the physical condition of their mortal bodies which are subject to death and disease. The spirits in our bodies however, are immortal—we will exist for all eternity—whether in heaven or in hell.
How was Jesus able to take sin from the whole world by dying?
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” --James 1:5
To better understand this idea of why Christ had to die and how that action takes away our sins we have to understand these four basic principles:
1.) Death is the result of sin
2.) All are guilty--we have all sinned
3.) God is not only fair, He is JUST
1) Death is the result of sin
If we are to understand the cross in its fullness the first point we need to understand is that death in the world is the result of the presence of sin.
Do you remember way back at the beginning? All the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? God had made this huge wonderful creation. He made the sun and the moon, and the stars; He made the earth and everything in it. And after God had finished with all His creating, He saw that it was all very good. There was nothing wrong with it. And God created Adam and Eve, the first man and woman. And they too were good. Then God told them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or they would die. Well, you know the story—they disobeyed and ate. And just as God warned them if they ate, they would die… they died—they became mortal and therefore their bodies became subject to the effects of sin. This was the first time sin came into the presence of the human race and its effects were entirely lethal. Before the Fall, there was no death. After, death has been forever a part of the human experience. In fact, sin and death became so deadly that it had not only altered mankind’s experience but it altered the entire creation as well (See Romans 8:19-22).
2) We all are guilty of sin
The second thing to understand is that sin is universal to the human race. We are all guilty of committing sin. With the exception of infants and small children we are all guilty before God. But although babies and children may be in a temporary state of innocence before God their bodies still suffer the consequences of the presence of sin in our world. Through no fault of their own that is why we still have childhood diseases and birth defects. (As babies grow older they eventually go astray and commit sin like the rest of us and become subject to its consequences. See Matthew 19:14, Romans 5:12; Romans 7:9, James 1:14-15) Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” The Bible also says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Romans 1:18-32 states more emphatically just how deeply guilty we all are of sin.
So… according to the Bible, death is caused by sin.
And we are all plagued by sin.
And its prognosis, if left unchecked, is terminal.
3) God is not only fair, He is JUST
Now since the Bible teaches that all are guilty of sin and no one deserves salvation, it also teaches that God has not abandoned the human race and left us in a hopeless predicament. It teaches that God is willing to forgive. The Bible also teaches us that God is not only a fair God but also a just God. To be just means to be absolutely fair in the highest moral sense. So since we are all guilty before God and cannot earn salvation, and since we therefore do not deserve to be forgiven—if God is going to be willing to forgive one guilty, undeserving sinner, He has to also be willing to forgive all guilty, undeserving sinners.
And just as sin universally affects us all, so also, God’s plan of salvation is available to us all.
Which leads us to our fourth point to understand how God provides for our salvation…the death of His Son, Jesus.
4) Jesus was sinless, eternal and immortal—in the flesh
A) Remember when God created Adam? Adam was immortal. It was not until he committed sin that he died—that he became mortal. And since then the human race exists as mortal beings. But in 1Cor 15:45 the Bible refers to Jesus as the second Adam. Jesus was the only other man beside Adam to enter this world as an immortal being.
B) “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:25-27)
“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”
So what does this mean? Jesus was eternal. Jesus was immortal. That means he couldn’t die, right? But he was fully human so of course he could die right? Yes, he was fully human just like us, except remember although He had an earthly human mother, He was different from us also in the fact that He did not have an earthly human father. His father was God Himself. He was born of a virgin. So although He was just like us in most ways, He was different in this other way. He was not only born of a virgin, He Himself was the very Son of God in a human body—sinless, eternal, and immortal. He could not die.
How can you say He couldn’t die? He did die!
Well, the only reason Jesus died, was He let himself experience the effects of death on his human body. He allowed death to affect him and overcome him when He had the power to not allow death to overcome him. As he explained to the disciples, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again...” (John 10:17-18)
Now I know what I am going to say next might come as a big surprise to you. But if Jesus had not chosen to submit his body to death there is nothing in God’s creation that would have killed him!
If you had walked up to Jesus and shot him in the heart with a gun, if He had so chosen, He would have lived. Crazy you say? Not really. Consider His wounds from the cross. Not only were the arteries in His wrists and feet pierced so He would slowly bleed to death, the Roman spear thrust through his lungs and heart was basically equivalent to a gunshot wound to the chest. And after Jesus was raised from the dead, He appeared to Thomas and had Thomas place his fingers into the wounds in His hands and side. These were the wounds caused by the crucifixion nails and the Roman spear. They all saw it. Jesus was dead. And yet Jesus now lived. He walked. He talked. He breathed. The nail holes were still there but Jesus did not bleed out. The gaping hole in his chest was still there and yet it was not gushing blood with every heartbeat. This was not a different body than the one that hung on the cross. This was not a “glorified body” as some refer to it as. No; It was the same one!
Let me put it to you like this: If you had set off a nuclear bomb beneath Jesus and He had so willed it to be, He would have come out of that explosion completely unscathed! Completely.
Now before you scoff at the idea and reject it, first consider that this is what basically happened in the Book of Daniel. (Daniel 3) The things that are written in the Bible are not fairy tales. They are real stories of real events that really happened. If you recall, Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace that was heated seven times hotter than normal by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. (The closest thing we have from ancient times that would be comparable to the heat of a nuclear explosion) The three men survived and came out completely unscathed while the men who were ordered to throw them into the furnace were burned up by the blast and incinerated instantly. At the sight King Nebuchadnezzar declared that he saw a fourth man walking around in the flames with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—one that looked like “the son of the gods”. Most bible commentators believe this fourth man to be Jesus Himself. Now I am sure someone will point out that this was Christ in his preincarnate form but that is to ignore the fact that He could also protect three very human sinners from the astronomically hot burning temperatures. When these three men walked out of that furnace they did not even have so much as the smell of smoke on them!
Other Bible commentators think this figure was merely an angel. But consider this: if it were only an angel, that angel had the ability to not only protect himself from the blazing inferno but he could also protect humans who were in there with him. So if this were merely an angel, a much lesser being and much less powerful than the Christ Creator-- and this “angel” could perform such a feat-- the much more powerful Christ would be able to do immeasurably more!
So when Jesus told His disciples that He had life in Him just as the Father had life in Him and that no one takes His life from him, but that He lays it down on His own accord He was telling them He couldn’t die-- unless He allowed it. Yes, Jesus was 100% human but He was also 100% God. Although He had an earthly mother, He did not have an earthly father. His father was God Himself. So although Jesus was just like us in one way—in His humanity, He was also different in a very important way. Jesus had demonstrated for three years walking around earth doing miracles, healing the sick and raising the dead that He had absolute power and authority to control the most powerful curses that plagued and perplexed mankind and over which mankind was completely powerless to fight against.
And by going to the cross and surrendering His own immortal life He would demonstrate and prove to the world He had absolute power and control over the most universally heinous and potent enemy mankind has ever encountered--death.
Jesus had so much power that even death itself submitted to Him while He was dead!
Putting it all together
So how did He submit to death? By submitting to and taking on sin-- our sin.
By dying He would not become King and therefore end up judging the world. The judge would die --and a dead judge cannot judge. By “going away” (John 16:7) Judgment Day was postponed.
By dying the world would hear the single biggest news story the world has ever known.
By dying the sinless and immortal, fair and just God paid the consequences of and took upon Himself the sins of the entire world.
So if Jesus paid for everyone’s sins, then why do people still go to hell?
The reason people still go to hell even though Jesus paid for their sins is that they fail to apply the sacrifice of the cross to their lives… they fail to apply the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to their sins…So how is that done?
Now THAT is the question to ask! The answer is found in Romans 6:3-5:
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the father, we too may rise to new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
The cross is how God applied your sins to Jesus 2,000 years ago—long before you were even born. Baptism is how God completes the circle and applies the sacrifice of the cross to your sins today.
Let me say that again. The cross is how God applied your sins to Jesus. Baptism is how God applies the cross to your sins.
So you see, as much as baptism is about water, baptism is really about the cross. In fact, you might just say the water of baptism is about nothing other than the cross!
So when people tell you you don’t need to be baptized to be saved, that’s like saying you don’t need the cross to be saved! Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus was both our high priest and sacrificial lamb.
Normally, the high priest would sacrifice the Passover lamb. But not this high priest. This high priest was different. He would not sacrifice a lamb. He was the lamb.
This high priest would sacrifice Himself.
The Blood of the Lamb
“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
From the very beginning God’s plan of salvation for mankind has been about the blood of the lamb “slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation13:8). When the Israelites exited the land of slavery (Egypt) they made the exodus because the angel of death struck all of Egypt’s firstborn but spared the Israelites who obeyed the command to place the blood of lambs on their doorposts. Paul refers to this in 1Corinthians 10:1-4:
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
What is the illustration from Israel’s history?
Represents being under slavery
Then Moses said to the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand. Eat nothing containing yeast.
“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
…the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
…the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes…
he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I made a covenant with your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery…
I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
What is the illustration from Israel’s history?
God rescues us from being enslaved to sin through baptism!
The exodus and the blood of the Lamb:
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Baptism and the blood of the Lamb:
What was the exodus about? It was about the Passover event. And what was the Passover about? It was about judgment and the blood of the lamb.
What is baptism about? It’s about the cross of Christ. What is the cross pf Christ about? It’s about judgment, and the shedding of the blood of the Lamb!
So now what?
Well, if you have never been baptized for the forgiveness of your sins I urge you to do this before it is too late. The Bible says there is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-5) And this one baptism is full immersion in water for the purpose of being forgiven, reborn, and saved after one has repented or turned away from their sins and desires an active relationship with God. (Acts 2:38; John 3:3-5; 1Peter 3:21; Acts 8:26-40; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 22:16) If you have not yet received the one baptism taught in Scripture it is easy enough to remedy and takes only a few moments to accomplish once the prerequisites of faith and repentance are met. In this faithful act of obedience God will not only save you from the fire of eternal hell and grant you eternal life with a new body in the kingdom of heaven but will also give you the gift of His Holy Spirit to live in you and provide comfort and strength as a deposit guaranteeing what is still yet to come (Acts 2:38, IICor 1:22; 5:5, Galatians 3:26-27:4:6-7)
“Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practice all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts. In short, it is so transcendent that if timid nature could realize it, it might well doubt whether it could be true. For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one's door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive. Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves…”
This page updated: May 15, 2022