Why did Jesus Christ have to suffer and die?

(Joshua Steele) #1

This is was the question on the hearts of two disciples as they walked along the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. They asked it (in so many words) of Jesus, whom they were not permitted to recognize, as He walked along with them.
As I think about this discourse (found in Luke 24:13-13), I wonder about this question, and about its significance to people today. I believe this is a question on the hearts of anyone who has been confronted with the gospel. They hear a message of an atonement for sin that must exclusively be paid by Jesus Christ, and I think that might be where much of the struggle to believe the gospel lies. What are your thoughts on this question, and how would you answer it?

*EDIT: Another question: What is the significance of this question in the grand scheme of life, death, and eternity? How does it rank in importance to other questions about Christ, God, salvation, the gospel, etc.?

(SeanO) #2

@josh_steele Personally, I like to split this out into two questions:

  1. Why was Jesus’ death necessary for our salvation? (short answer: redemption)

  2. Why did Jesus choose to come to earth and die for us? (short answer: love)

Some people accuse God of cosmic child abuse because they do not understand that Jesus chose freely to obey the Father - no one forced His hand. After Peter chopped off the ear of one of the high priest’s servants, Jesus said:

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In John 10 Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

So Jesus chose to come as the Good Shepherd that we may have life in His name.

But why was His sacrifice necessary?

In Colossians 1:13 there is a beautiful combination of Jesus’ purpose in coming and the reason for His death on the cross: For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 2:14 further explains the nature of God’s redeeming action on the cross: having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

The wages of sin is death - but Jesus paid the penalty for us by redeeming us with His own life.

Now - someone may ask - why couldn’t God just forgive us without a sacrifice?

I found a statement on one website that put this question in a more barbed fashion - “when we say that God’s anger at sin necessitated the blood sacrifice of an innocent human in order to calm his wrath, we are not describing a god who is fundamentally different and holy– we are simply describing another version of an angry god who needs a virgin thrown into the volcano”

So, what are some differences between the pagan gods and human sacrifice and God’s wrath in the Bible and Jesus’ sacrifice?

  1. The God of the Bible never - ever - permitted human sacrifice - it was an abomination (Lev 18:21 / Deut 18:10), whereas pagan sacrifices often included human sacrifice

  2. Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all (Hebrews 10:12), whereas pagan sacrifices required constant repetition

  3. Jesus chose freely to obey the Father (John 4:34), whereas pagan sacrifices were often forced against their will

  4. Jesus died specifically to save us from our sins (1 Pet 1:19), whereas pagan sacrifices were often to bring good crops that year or for fertility. The God of the Bible freely offered the blessings of fertility and fruitfulness to any who would walk with Him - no sacrifice required. The sacrifice was centered around our broken relationship with God - sin and judgment - not fertility or harvest rituals.

  5. Jesus died to save His enemies as well - whereas the pagan gods were often tied to nationality, land, an idea (war, love, etc) or a specific sphere of life

  6. Jesus claimed to be the Creator of all things - pagan gods were often demigods and subject to fate - Jesus is the Alpha and Omega

I am sure there are more reasons others can think of…

I think at the heart of the answer to this question is that we must:

a) Take our sin seriously
b) Take God’s holiness seriously

Neither of which our modern culture does, but the Biblical worldview consistently does.

Here is an essay by J. I. Packer discussing Penal Substitution called What did the Cross Achieve? that should provide some food for thought.

Hopefully that was some useful food for thought.

(Ron Livaudais) #3

The Bible says that the soul that sins must die. We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When Jesus suffered and died, He took our place, He lived a sinless life and therefore could be that
perfect sacrifice for our sins. He paid the penalty for our sins, thus freeing us from having to pay it, which
would have been eternal separation from God.
Jesus had to suffer for our sins, shame and suffering, otherwise we would have no hope, no future
hope of living with Him for eternity. He offers us the free gift of salvation as a result of His sacrifice and
Resurrection. Because of His Love, we now have access to relationship with Him that was lost in the Garden of Eden. It is a matter of accepting or rejecting His Faith and Grace toward us. The free will we have to accept or reject His gift of salvation is also a gift from Him. Are we going to be good stewards of the manifold gifts from God? Let that be a resounding yes from all of us!
Praise His Holy Name!

(Jennifer Judson) #4

If I were talking to a seeker, here’s how I might answer:

That’s a great question, even the disciples who walked with Jesus for 3 years did not understand why this was necessary until after the resurrection. In their post-resurrection encounters with Jesus, he opened their eyes to all the prophesies that foretold what would happen, and why.

It’s a big question, and on the face of it one would wonder how can a loving God script this kind of an ending for “his only begotten son”–as Jesus is referred to in the Bible? I know it seems inconsistent, but in actuality it is all about consistency. Think about yourself, are you part daughter, part wife and part mother? It may be a way to express it, but in actuality you are all daughter, all wife and all mother. In the same way God is 100% love, 100% justice, 100% mercy, 100% truth…in all His attributes He is fully so. Does that make sense?

When you come to believe that God is the creator, and all He says that He is, you come to understand that more and more. It’s easy to ask how can there be 100% justice and 100% mercy at the same time? But the answer to that question can be found only in Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection. I’ll explain more on that, but another thing Christians believe is that Jesus was fully god and fully man, once again 100% and 100%. It’s hard to wrap your head around that one too, but if it were not so then justice would not have been satisfied.

From Genesis all the way through to Revelations, there is a story of God’s plan and interactions with humanity. 66 books of different kinds, numerous authors, but a thread of one story throughout. There’s certainly a lot to say about that story, but pertaining to your question it’s clear that God made this “Easter” plan from the very beginning. It was not a Plan B after we humans messed up. But we did mess up. Because of that sin became part of our nature. No, were not all Hitlers and horrible 100% of the time, but we chose selfish desires over loving God and it’s those selfish desires that wreck havoc throughout the world. When the serpent tempted Eve and Adam, he basically offered them the opportunity to become their own Gods “to know what God knows.” Thus the knowledge of good and evil entered the world. Literally all of creation was corrupted.

You cannot have love without freedom. Unless someone has the choice to love you, it’s compliance, not love. So that we might love God he gave us free will to choose to love him, or not. Both of those choices had AND have consequences. God is all-knowing and knew we would choose self-love over fully loving him. But because of his great love for his creation, especially we who are created in his image, he initiated a plan for our redemption and the full restoration of creation.

Why not just forgive us and move on? Because God is holy and for us to be back in a fully restored relationship with him, justice had to be served. You see there is an absolute truth. All morality rests on it. So God himself, Jesus the Son (the 2nd person of The Trinity) lowered himself into humanity to walk a blameless life so that he might be the sacrifice that will satisfy the debt of the sins of men. He had to be perfect (fully God), he had to be human (fully man) for this debt to be paid. So the cross is the fulfillment of justice. But God is love. The whole story is about God’s love and desire to reclaim us…to restore us. So the resurrection is the fulfillment of mercy. The resurrection is not just coming back to life. It is coming back to an eternal, fully restored life. Because of the resurrection, we can be forgiven and claim that eternal relationship with God.

It’s still freedom. It’s still a choice. And there are still consequences for that choice. But because of this plan in which God himself chooses to die for us, we have that eternal option.

The cross was gruesome and cruel. Jesus suffering was beyond imagining. It was the worst that the institutions of men could commit for the purpose of keeping power. But because Jesus sacrificed himself for love, that power over us was destroyed. The power of death itself was destroyed.

When we look at the cross and see some sort of cosmic child abuse, we are not looking at the truth of the picture. The abuse came from humanity. It came from a mob of people yelling crucify who were complicit in a conspiracy for the Jewish High Priest to maintain power. Pontius Pilate gave in for expediency and to keep the Jews from revolting against Roman power. When we see the cross we see humanity’s guilt. But also when we look at the cross we see God’s love. Jesus said, “greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

He calls you friend. It’s up to you whether you accept that and become his.

(Jennifer Judson) #5

I’d certainly say it’s one of the fundamental questions that has to be answered. Understanding God’s necessity for justice and desire for mercy is integral to understanding both our peril and our opportunity.

Jesus is full of grace and truth. To follow him we must speak both grace and truth. The truth is that we are not God and we do not get to decide the how or why of God’s plan. And praise be to God that even though we absolutely do not deserve mercy, Jesus is full of grace and offers it to us.

Because we do not have the mind of God I think it’s a question nearly everyone come to, even Christians. It’s in the answers to that question that we come face to face with our depravity and helplessness. It’s also in the answer that we find the lifeline that has been woven through the full course of history that we might be saved.

Great challenge, Josh. Really enjoyed thinking through these answers.

(Brian Weeks) #6

Hi Josh, thanks for the opportunity to discuss this important question. You asked how we would answer the question, Why did Jesus Christ have to suffer and die? I particularly like this question because it shines a beautifully bright light on the inconceivable mercy of God, as Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die. That’s part of what makes it such gloriously good news.

As R.C. Sproul said in his book The Holiness of God, if we find ourselves talking about mercy and grace as obligatory, we’re no longer talking about mercy and grace; we’re talking about justice. Mercy and grace must be voluntary or they are no longer mercy and grace.

So, I like how Sean addresses this in his reframing the question by pointing out that Jesus chose to suffer and die. What a cause for everlasting happiness and praise this is.

(Ashish Money) #7

Very well said Jennifer, I did have some many question like:

  1. Why Jesus?
  2. Was Justice being made?
  3. The Work of Jesus?
  4. The suffering on the Cross?
  5. The resurrection power?
    Thanks for making it so easy to share the gospel…

(Joshua Steele) #8

@SeanO, Thank you for such a detailed answer. I appreciate how you separated the question into two parts: necessity and choice. This truly reveals the scope of God’s amazing grace and love. He CHOSE to create us, knowing that He would CHOOSE to redeem us at the highest possible price to Himself because He alone would qualify to meet the NECESSARY demands of a perfect atonement.

I would add that unfortunately, this is also often true in the church as well.
Thank you again for your thought-provoking and well-spoken reply.

(Joshua Steele) #9

@Jennifer_Judson, great response! I love your explanation of how God is 100% love, 100% justice, comparing that to our own human roles and relationships. I have also heard God’s attributes described as a multi-faceted diamond, each side perfectly equal and symmetrical, with no side outshining the other.
I also appreciated how you brought the conversation to the cross. Only at the cross do all these attributes converge to illustrate God’s true nature.
Love is never true love if it is coerced or forced. It is a choice, or it is not love. God chose to love us, and we can choose to love Him. This is the only way to have a true relationship.
Thank you for sharing!


(Carson Weitnauer) #10

Hi Ashish, please feel free to start new topics on these questions, perhaps one at a time, and some of the background/context for each question. They are good questions!

(Joshua Steele) #11

@Brian_Weeks, great point about God’s mercy and grace not being obligatory! I am so thankful that He CHOSE to love me and that He continues to CHOOSE to love me every single day. I am not worthy of this love, yet He pours it out on me continually.


(Jennifer Judson) #12

Not questions for simple easy answers, but great questions for an invitation to learn more. I think the book of Romans would be especially helpful when talking to someone about these questions.

Why Jesus?

I think you need to help a seeker try to understand these three things to see why Jesus was the solution.
– the sacrificial system given to Moses by God (first born without blemish)
– the depravity of humanity
– who Jesus is–the community/harmony of the trinity

Was Justice being made?

Perhaps a way to say it is that through Jesus sacrifice on the cross, justice was satisfied. The idea of the sacrificial system is that one life paid for the many. Just as sin entered the world through one man, Adam. The wages of sin were paid in full through one man, Jesus…for all humanity. What is meant by this universal salvation? Is every person now safe from judgement? No, it means that every person who hears the message of the gospel can freely choose to accept Jesus as their savior–to accept and acknowledge his sacrifice was necessary for them to be right before God. We are not made right because of our actions, but because of Jesus actions. That is why Christians say the only way is through Jesus. (Great opportunity to discuss grace).

Why is justice necessary? Because of who God is. He is holy. He is perfect in all things and perfectly consistent. So in this consistency he will not simply forgive all of our sins without serving the needs of justice.

Humanity has an enemy (the one who seduced Adam and Eve in the garden) who helped usher evil and death into our world. That very same enemy (Satan), who is jealous of God and all his creation–especially those created in his image, is working to condemn every man. By Jesus fulfilling God’s plan for our salvation, Satan and his power over our “eternal” death is defeated. What do I mean by that? If we stand condemned for our sins before God on judgement day the penalty is eternal separation from God–in other words an eternal death without hope. If you are a believer in Jesus then you receive no condemnation because you stand in Jesus’ righteousness.

So when we talk about justice we are talking about the final and eternal justice of God.

The Work of Jesus?

To do the Father’s will. To live a life unblemished and show us The Way to a kingdom life in him. The eternal perspective is important, but Jesus also came to usher in The Kingdom of God. When we follow the example he lived out and all the instruction he gave us, our lives become more vibrant and fulfilling. Not necessarily easier, but certainly more purposeful. Jesus leads us to be Kingdom People.

The suffering on the cross?

Jesus suffering is the consequence of all the evil in the world–all our sins. We (all humanity) are responsible for his suffering. Perhaps it had to be that bad for us to take notice…and take notice for century after century. Unquestionably the cross is unforgettable.

When your heart and mind truly grasp the depth of that suffering and acknowledge the love it took to endure it, it changes your life. In our suffering we also know that we are not experiencing anything that God himself did not endure for us. Many who suffer will tell you that though they wish their suffering did not exist, it has drawn them deeper into the heart of God in ways they’ve never imagined.

The resurrection power?

As I mentioned in my original post, the cross (the sacrifice) paid for our sins. But if that had been all the cross accomplished, then it would mean that when we died we would die with a clean record. It is the resurrection that defeats death itself. Because Jesus lives we also can live–and live with him eternally. That is the power of the resurrection. Imagine what that power can do in your life. Imagine all the areas of your life that Jesus can breate power into. In Jesus we are not only redeemed, but restored.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Obviously these answers are simple glimpses into your questions. Each and everyone would be a wonderful place to dive deep and discover the fullness of God’s story for our lives.