Why did Jesus Christ have to die?
Quick Answer: To understand why Christ died, we don’t need to look further than the Law which states, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). Jesus’ death was required for our forgiveness, and His death brought perfect forgiveness to all who believe (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 10:14).
Diving Deeper: The precise meaning of Christ’s death has been debated for over 2,000 years. What exactly did Christ accomplish, and how did He accomplish it? Was the Father angry with Jesus at the cross? Was the cross cosmic child abuse? Did Jesus die to placate the Father, or did He die to defeat Satan? Or did Jesus die simply to bring positive moral change to humanity? Such questions, and many more, cause us to consider deeply the purpose of this miracle we call the propitiation (satisfying sacrifice) of Christ.
Much of this discussion is spawned by the term propitiation. The term, as used in Scripture, means to totally satisfy a deity by means of a sacrifice. This was an extremely common motif in pagan religions. Wrongdoing, whatever it was, upset their god(s), and therefore a sacrifice was needed to appease the deity (or deities). Scripture calls Jesus the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). This means His death is enough to satisfy God forever concerning all sins.
Unlike pagan theology, the miracle of the Gospel is that God ultimately requires the sacrifice of Himself in the context of the Law (Leviticus 17:11, Hebrews 9:22, 10:14). The sacrifice of the Son of God is able to remove the sins of the world. This was the plan from the foundation of the world and was agreed upon by the entire Trinity (Revelation 13:8). God so loved the world that He gave His Son as the final sacrifice for sins (John 3:16). This sacrifice is contrasted with animal sacrifices of the Old Testament which never removed sin (Hebrews 10:4). Those were but a shadow, a foretelling, of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews 10:1).
In academic literature, there are three prevailing frameworks used to describe the finished work of Christ: penal substitution, Christus victor, and ransom theory. While some purport that we must choose one framework (meaning) over the others, we believe each carries an important truth concerning what the death of Christ accomplished.
According to penal substitution, God cannot leave sin unpunished. Therefore, there must be a death. The wages of sin is death itself, and Jesus paid those wages in our place (Romans 6:23, Hebrews 9:16).
According to the Christus victor view, Christ died to defeat Satan, sin, and death. Did Jesus defeat Satan? Absolutely! Scripture is clear that Satan has been judged and defeated (1 John 3:8, John 16:11).
Finally, according to the ransom concept, Jesus died to pay the ransom for us in order to buy us back. Scripture clearly says Jesus was our “ransom” and that we were bought with a price (1 Timothy 2:6; see also 1 Corinthians 6:20).
So, there is truth in each of these frameworks for understanding the death of Jesus. The core purpose behind His death was to fulfill the Law and take away our sins (Hebrews 10:14). Further, we should not forget that through the cross, we died with Jesus and became new creations (Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20). In short, there are many reasons for the death of Christ and we can appreciate them all.
Let’s Make It a Conversation!
1. What has been your understanding of what Jesus’ death accomplished?
2. How has this brief discussion enhanced your appreciation for the cross?
3. Which one of the three reasons (substitute, victory, ransom) means the most to you? Why?