JESUS CHRIST DIED AS OUR PERSONAL SUBSTITUTE
The Old Testament foretold that God would send a Savior to take away the sins of the world (see Topic 23). He came as promised in the person of Jesus Christ. In theological terms, this is called the ‘incarnation,’ meaning the appearance of God in human flesh.
He allowed himself to be crucified at the hands of men who didn’t believe him. Usually men are crucified for something they did, but Christ was crucified only for saying he is God incarnate. What he said was so preposterous to them that they killed him for blasphemy.
Because of the enormity of the aggregate human sin to be punished, and because there is no greater value than life itself, nothing but his life could be an adequate sacrifice for all the sins of the world.
He became the once-and-for-all sacrifice for mankind so that no further sacrifices are needed. The Bible says we won’t be punished for our sins because he has already taken the punishment for us, provided that each person believes in his heart and mind, individually, that Christ died on the cross as the sacrifice for his sins and that this is God’s free gift, requiring only personal acceptance of it in order to get any benefit from it.
Jesus Christ, in love, became our substitute, dying in our place. Because he paid the penalty for our sin, we don’t have to pay it ourselves.
CRUCIFIXION WAS WORST KIND OF EXECUTION
The cross was an instrument of execution used by the Romans, who controlled Palestine at the time Jesus lived there. Jesus was sentenced to death by crucifixion by Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, at the demand of religious leaders who were furious that Jesus claimed to be God and was developing a large following.
Here’s a brief description of death by crucifixion (from Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Harper & Row):
‘Though the procedure was subject to wide variation according to the whim and sadism of the executioner, by the Roman period several features were fairly standard...
‘There the offender was stripped and flogged. The prisoner's arms were affixed to the crossbar with ropes or nails, and the crossbar was then raised and attached to the upright stake. A small wooden block attached to the stake beneath the buttocks supported the weight of the suspended body, which was bound to the stake with ropes. Often the feet were also affixed to the stake with ropes or nails. Because deterrence was a primary objective, the cross was always erected in a public place. Death came slowly, often only after several days, resulting from the cumulative impact of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, exposure and the traumatic effects of the scourging. After death, the body was usually left hanging on the cross. Because of the protracted suffering and the extreme ignominy of this manner of execution, it was viewed by the Romans as the supreme penalty, the ‘most wretched of deaths’ (Josephus), and generally reserved for the lowest classes and the most heinous crimes...
‘The Biblical account of Jesus’ crucifixion reveals few variants from the usual procedure.’
It’s amazing to note that over 700 years earlier, the Old Testament foretold that the Savior would be crucified... written long before crucifixion was used as a means of execution (see Topic 23).
JESUS CHRIST DIED FOR US, BUT HE LIVES AGAIN
Three days after being buried in a tomb sealed and guarded by Roman soldiers, Jesus miraculously came back to life and spent the next 40 days teaching his disciples. During this time he was seen by over 500 witnesses.
Here’s the Bible account of how his life on earth then concluded: ‘When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere…’
The more we learn about God, the more we realize that everything he does has good reason, even from human perspective. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus is no exception. It profoundly effects us in three ways:
- It’s final proof that Jesus is God, that his words can be trusted, and that he’s alive
- It’s transformation of the localized Christ as man into the universal risen Savior, with ecstatic disciples willing to die for the astonishing truth they discovered
- It’s demonstration of a future resurrection which will happen to all of us after we die
VALUE OF THE SACRIFICE WAS QUALITY, NOT TIME
Jesus hung on the cross for about six hours (9:00 am. to 3:00 p.m.) before dying. Then, he experienced hell for three days, suffering terrible torment on our behalf. On the third day, God (Father – see Topic 42) released his soul from hell and put life back into his dead body.
Some people say, or at least secretly think, that this was not such a big sacrifice since it all happened in only a few days. We know that many people have given their lives for others, permanently, without any hope of restoration to life again. How could only a few days of suffering by Jesus be equivalent to eternal hell for all sinners?
That kind of thinking disregards the fact that in the spiritual world time has little significance compared to quality. We have no way to comprehend the intensity of Jesus’ suffering and humiliation. For all we know, in order to take the sins of the entire world, his suffering may have been infinitely greater than what any human can ever experience, even in hell. We simply don’t know, and therefore no one is in a position to judge the degree of anguish.
But the duration and intensity of suffering is not the main point, but rather the quality of the one who suffered. The main point is that God’s love for us is so great that he paid the penalty himself and, furthermore, regardless of our opinion or sense of balance, God says that the sacrifice IS adequate for our complete forgiveness.
DEATH AND RESURRECTION ARE NECESSARY FOR NEW LIFE
In God’s plan, Jesus’ death and resurrection was essential in order for us to have new life.
At first thought, we may think blood and death are too gory – and resurrection too bizarre – and wish that God had chosen some more pleasant and conventional way to give us new life. But the fact is that this is the way he chose to do it. It’s his world and his plan, and we’re in no position to say he should have done it some other way.
If we’d designed the reconciliation, we probably would have made it more difficult. We wouldn’t let people off the hook so easily. We’d make them suffer and pay a price for their wrongdoing.
We should rejoice that God’s plan is such a remarkable reflection of his character (holy-just-love) and is so easy for us.
Hereʼs a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
I Corinthians 15:12-28
Jesusʼ death and resurrection are essential parts of Godʼs plan
Jesus takes away sins of the world
Jesus is Godʼs only provision for our sin problem
Mark 16:14-20, Luke 24:50-53
Jesusʼ final statements and his ascension to heaven
For help, see Topic 29.