Why Did Jesus Have to Die?
This article comes out of a book I’m endeavoring to write with the same title. I’m posting this portion now for two reasons: one, to solicit feedback; two, so that it might be helpful to others now, while I develop the topic.
Why did Jesus have to die? It’s a mystery for many believers and skeptics alike. Many have heard that Jesus died for us, but many ask why or dismiss it because it’s never been satisfactorily explained to them.
To answer the question we must delve into the very nature of God, especially His integrity and how He loves. We must also confront the nature of evil and where it came from because it cannot be ignored. Not if a God that’s all loving, all powerful, all knowing, ever present and perfect – is to be believed and trusted. If God is all that, then He’s aware of and permits evil, so the nature of God’s love demands to be reconciled with the existence of evil. Finally, we must address the apparent reason God made us at all and if there was any other way He might have done things.
There is much more to say, but the bottom line is this —
Jesus had to die because He loves those whom He created in His image.
In summary, it is Jesus who created us and placed us in this world to live, suffer and die. So, the responsibility rests on Him to show His love by doing the same – by walking in our shoes as one of us. All of us suffer to varying extents, but Jesus would suffer no less than any of us. It might not have had to be this way, but sin entered into the picture. Jesus knew it would and was prepared for the consequences.
God is Love
Scripture claims that “God is love”. For that to be true – and if He is perfect – He must show perfect love. It must therefore be to the fullest extent possible, without holding anything back. Otherwise, He could be accused of not having done His best to show all the love He possibly could. There can be nothing lacking in a perfect God – if any love is lost, or lacking, then He cannot be one and the same as love.
He Made Us in His Image / Free Will
Jesus not only created us, He made us in His own image. If we’re made in God’s image then we’re like Him in some ways. There is much that implies, but of paramount importance for our topic is that it includes – free will. Free will means we can make choices and that they are not controlled or pre-determined.
The affect of free will on our nature cannot be understated – it represents a huge risk not only for us, but for the plan of God as well. Fortunately, God is in ultimate control and from the believer’s perspective He undoubtedly intervenes as He seems fit, but He seems to allow as much human free will as possible.
Free Will has Potential for Evil
Free will unfortunately opens the door to evil. Evil is the opposite of good and it occurs when free will is exercised beyond certain boundaries.
What is it that causes one’s free will to cross the line from good to evil? It’s our sin nature that we inherit. Eve was deceived by Satan in the Garden of Eden and ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam was not deceived (1 Tim 2:14), but chose to join Eve in her condition by also disobeying God by partaking as well. Disobeying God is sin and God’s prescribed penalty is death. This caused them both to die in a dual sense – by loosing their original eternal and sinless state.
The three-fold combination of having free will (as in God’s image), the knowledge of good and evil (from the forbidden fruit) and a sin nature (from disobeying God) is what apparently gives us the potential for evil.
Therefore, evil in one sense is simply the sinful expression of free will. If both sin and free will are involved, then it’s unavoidable.
People Suffer and Die Because of Evil
Despite evil being unavoidable because of both sin and free will being part of our nature, as well as Satan’s himself, we still often wonder why evil has to exist.
- Evil had to have its Day -
Since the potential for evil exists whenever free will exists there was no avoiding it from being manifested at some point or another. So, perhaps God in his perfect wisdom provided the means for it to be manifested for ultimate and eventual good. Evil arguably has to be experienced and recognized for what it is before it can be acknowledged as a problem and eliminated.
The evidence for God having enabled the manifestation of evil and its ultimate demise follows. It may be shocking at first, but follow the progression and it will be clear.
Satan, or Lucifer as he was originally known, is the only being created by God in perfect form along with inherent knowledge of good and evil (people obtained it later after sinning.) That is often overlooked, but scripture says it clearly . Read the chapters of Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 and you’ll see more, including how Lucifer was created in perfect beauty and given an anointed role above that of any other Angel.
God had to engineer a way for evil to become manifest and how He did it is remarkable and in such a way as only a just God could do. He made the perfect being and it was His right to do so. But, Lucifer became so full of himself that he wanted to become as God himself and exalt his own throne above that of God’s. Crazy and sinful ambition that God could not tolerate. Perfection is therefore not a guarantee against evil. In fact evil is apparently a risk of perfection if sin is not eliminated. Perhaps only God can handle being perfect. Or, perhaps we’ll also be able to handle being perfect when we’re resurrected in immortal bodies and forever present with the Lord.
So did God set Lucifer up for failure – to become the personification of evil? I say yes and no. Yes, because He knows everything. No, because He is just in everything He does and what is wrong with making someone perfect? Before you answer that you may want to thank Him for not making you perfect – isn’t it interesting to consider that God loved you enough to not make you perfect – just look what it did for Lucifer. So did God not love Lucifer? I think He did and may have even warned him how to conduct himself. Perhaps someone, or some being, had to be created perfect at some point, because God could otherwise be criticized for not creating perfect beings – but now we know better.
Jesus had to Become a Man and Willingly Suffer and Die to Show His Love
Why are suffering and dying important expressions of God’s love? —
If people He created must suffer and die, then so must He to show His perfect love.
Why did He have to suffer such a horrible death through crucifixion? —
If some people must suffer horrible deaths, then so must He to show His perfect love.
There’s simply no getting around it for Jesus – He had to suffer and die. He also had to do so willingly. Perfection means nothing is lacking, so If God is perfect then His love must be perfect. Perfect love cannot be given begrudgingly or with regret.
But, can God really suffer or die? No, God cannot suffer or die, so Jesus had to become a man. He didn’t give up being God, but became one of us in every way except our sin nature. He not only was, but remains for all time, the one and only God-man.
- Crucifixion -
Not only did He have to die, but He had to suffer in the cruelest way ever designed by man to show His love and fulfill prophecy. The process of crucifixion was a tortuous and lingering death. The legs of the person would often have to be broken to speed up the process and cause them to suffocate by not being able to lift their torso enough to breathe. That’s because their arms were stretched and impaled in a way that made it hard to breathe without pushing up with the legs, despite that being tortuous itself because of the feet also being impaled.
Jesus, by the way, had no bones broken as prophesied. It was also prophesied that no man would take His life, but He would lay it down willingly – He chose to die before the Roman soldiers arrived to break His legs if necessary. They were surprised He had already died and they respected His corpse.
If anyone were to die a more cruel death, then His love could arguably fail to be perfect. We can’t say with certainty whether anyone in history suffered a more cruel death, but we can say that crucifixion was the cruelest means of state authorized, public execution at the time. It was the cruelest choice available and it was the prophesied means.
Furthermore, it’s my contention that Jesus willingly suffered to the maximum extent possible, given the time in history and the physical limits of His human body – without healing Himself – which He may have been tempted to do, but it would have been cheating and a perfect God doesn’t cheat. He was also likely tortured more than usual because Pontius Pilot tried as a last resort to spare His life by hoping the crowd would pity His tortured state and agree to release Him. It is said that He no longer appeared to be human, having had His beard plucked out and His body repeatedly struck with flesh tearing whips.
What incredible love – that God would make us knowing full well before hand, that He would have to become one of us to suffer in the cruelest way and die at our hands – just to show His love. But there’s more.
- Is love the only reason Jesus had to die? -
Is love the only reason Jesus had to die? Well, love alone is enough, but there’s another aspect – a profound purpose that benefits us directly. He had to pay the penalty for our sins.
- The penalty of sin -
God laid down His only acceptable penalty for Sin. He said that the only remission of sin is through the shedding of blood. That’s very harsh, but so is sin. Since sin is harsh, so then must the penalty be harsh as well. But the penalty is totally unfair to us, unless He also provides a solution. Otherwise, no one could avoid the penalty and we would all have to pay with our own blood. That would be even harsher than just having it lay on the shoulders of one willing and able person – Jesus.
- The solution is Jesus alone -
Only a perfect man could pay the sin penalty for all men – and the only way a man can be perfect is for him to also be God.
"... For if by the one man's offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many." (Romans 5:15)
So, only a God-man will suffice. Jesus had to become man, remain perfect despite being tempted in every way, and pay restitution for us by shedding His own blood to meet His own requirement for remission of sin.
Would you sign up for such a mission? Can you imagine making some figures out of Legos, for example, and somehow make them come alive. Then, because you realize you love them so much you decide to not only become one of them, but provide the means by which they will cause you to suffer and die in the cruelest way possible – just so you can show your love to them. It’s completely crazy on one hand, yet incredibly profound on the other. That is what Jesus did for us, yet it’s even more profound than in our imperfect Lego analogy. Because He knows everything, He realized even before He made us what He would have to do for us. It’s the ultimate expression of love and He cannot have done anything less, or anything more because that is what He does – He gives everything His all.
He Did it for Companionship
The question becomes why did God bother? If it meant He would have to sacrifice and suffer so much, then why did He bother making us?
He apparently wants our companionship. And, our companionship is apparently worth all that He sacrificed and suffered. It was worth it for Him to become one of us and to suffer and die for us.
What alternatives does God have for companionship? He could have made creatures without free will that would have no choice but to love and worship Him. But, how satisfying is that?
In order to have companions that would choose to love Him, they need to have free will. Giving us free will is a huge risk for all involved because some will choose evil and reject His love. He apparently decided it’s worth the risk – for His own desire and for those that would choose to love Him.
- There was no other way -
Finally – was this the only way for Him to have everything He desires? That is, creatures made in His own image that would choose to return His love?
Jesus decided to make us in His image. He also placed us in a world where evil would reign because our free will was necessary as being part of His image. Satan was also there to deceive us into sinning by disobeying God – thereby causing us to have a fatal sin nature. Incredibly, Jesus knew this would happen and that it would require His own death to rectify the situation for us.
We were, in effect, setup ourselves, but Jesus then set Himself up also. How absurd and incredible that is. What greater love could there be?
There was apparently no other way and Jesus even agonized over that Himself in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before He was betrayed. He asked the Father to take this cup away, or having to go through crucifixion, from Him if there was any other way. The agony highlights His humanity, but the will and the facts highlight His divinity and perfect love.
Let me suggest an aspect of God’s nature – He compels Himself to only do things to the fullest extent possible – He is complete and does things completely. He’s all or nothing, as it were. If there is an ultimate or greatest way to do something, then that’s what He does. How hard and sacrificing it might be, is secondary if not irrelevant to Him.
Furthermore, if we accept that God is perfect then we should also accept that the remarkable story of Jesus having done all that He did including dying for us – as simply the perfect and therefore only solution.
- God is Love
- He claims that He is one and the same as love
- He Made us in His Image
- Free will is included
- Free Will has Potential for Evil
- Our potential for evil is enabled by our sin nature
- Our sin nature is a result of being deceived by Satan and thereby loosing our original eternal and sinless state
- People Suffer and Die Because of Evil
- Evil was unavoidable and had to have it’s day
- Satan was created perfect, yet became the source of evil
- Jesus had to Become a Man and Willingly Suffer and Die to Show His Love
- It also pays His own prescribed penalty for sin
- He Did it for Companionship
- He wants creatures created in His image to choose to love Him in return
- There was no other way
Scripture references are in the New King James Version (NKJV.) – emphasis is mine.
Ezekiel 28:12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “You were the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. Ezekiel 28:15 You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you.
Listen to interview about the article here http://www.blessingstoisrael.com/content.cfm?id=213&content_id=27