Why Did Jesus Die?
There are many atonement theories, and not every theory is equal. But one undeniable truth is that Jesus died to show how death is conquered through resurrection. By His death and resurrection, we are led to victory, and because of this we can work with confidence that what we do is not vain (1 Cor 15:50-58; Rom 8:31-39). He died to “bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet 3:18). “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Cor 5:15). He died to give us life through resurrection. It’s never just that He died, but He died and rose again. We are saved, not just by His death, but “by His life” (Rom 5:10).
Why did it have to be death for sin? Because in sin, we are rejecting and offending the God in whom is life and light (cf. John 1:1-5). If we reject the God of life, what’s left is death. If we reject the light, we are in darkness. Jesus died, not because He was guilty of the sin that rejected life, but because through HIs death and resurrection (necessary to the process), He destroyed the devil and delivered us from the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). He died ultimately to defeat the last enemy by showing that death cannot have the final word (1 Cor 15:26).
Why did it have to be such a brutal, humiliating death for Jesus? I believe this to be tied to our being made in God’s image. When we sin, what are we doing to the image of God in us but humiliating and brutalizing it? Jesus came as the perfect imprint of God (Heb 1:3; 2 Cor 4:4). The death on the cross shows in graphic terms what sin does to God’s image. In the cross, “His appearance was marred more than any man” (Isa 52:14). However, through resurrection, new life comes, and now we can be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:39), bearing the image of the heavenly (1 Cor 15:49) as the new self is “renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col 3:10). His death shows the brutality of sin, but His resurrection leads us back to His image with victory over death.
In Christ we are saved from the wrath of God. To be saved from the wrath of God is generally equated in Scripture with being saved from judgment. It is set opposite of eternal life. For example, Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). God’s wrath means judgment, giving people over to the consequences of sins (Rom 1:18ff; 3:5-6). The only reason we would suffer wrath is due to our own “hard and impenitent heart” (Rom 2:5). In Christ we are saved from the wrath of God (judgment) because in Him there is no condemnation (Rom 5:6-11; 8:1-2). Any possibility of escaping judgment is due to God’s love and grace, not by our own perfection. Jesus makes this possible.
This is a different picture of wrath than what is sometimes imagined. The Lord is not a malevolent, vindictive god waiting for us to mess up so He can vaporize us into oblivion. His sending Jesus should forever dispel such unworthy notions (see Rom 8:31-39). And with respect to Jesus’ death, it’s not a picture of God angrily killing Him. God’s wrath (judgment) upon sin is death, and Jesus suffered that voluntarily because He had a larger purpose to fulfill.
The “chastisement that brought us peace” (Isa 53:5) is seen in that Jesus partook of flesh and blood “that through death [the chastisement] he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery [the peace]” (Heb 2:14-15). He suffered the wages of sin (death), though not guilty, in order to bring about life through resurrection. In other words, He suffered what sin brought into this world to bring reconciliation and peace with God. That could only happen by defeating death, and this means resurrection. His sacrifice more than suffices to accomplish the goal of life and peace because it was more than just death.
The last line of Isaiah 53 shows us this: “he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” In death He bore sin because sin brings death, but the second part requires resurrection, for now “he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25). It’s a complete package. Without the shedding of His blood there would be no forgiveness, but without the resurrection there would be no peace.
God be praised for His precious gift of salvation and victory through Jesus!