Why Did Jesus Have To Die?
Five questions about the Passion
By Errol Hale
Little Michelle, age 3 ½, asked her mommy a very important question about Jesus recently. “Why did He have to die so that we can live?” Good question, sweetheart! In fact that may be the most important question of all. In the midst of all the controversy surrounding the movie, “The Passion,” that question needs to be answered, not only to the Michelle’s who are asking, but for those who haven’t even thought to ask.
In this short booklet, I am going to ask and answer five questions that might be on the minds of folks who have recently been brought face to face with the cross of Jesus Christ. The questions are: (1) Why did they hate Him so much? (2) Who was responsible for Jesus’s death? (3) Was Jesus’s suffering really as bad as the movie portrayed it? (4) Why did He have to die so that we can live? and (5) What do you think about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ?
Question #1: Why did they hate Him so much?
For those who think of Jesus as a good teacher and a worker of miracles, seeing how much some people hated Him may seem odd. I mean, why would anyone want to be that brutal to someone who didn’t do anything wrong? The answer is found in the New Testament of the Bible in a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the Romans. It clearly states that “we were enemies” of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 5:10). The we refers to all of fallen humanity—all who are the offspring of Adam, our first father, who, by breaking the only commandment God had given to man at that point, plunged the whole human race into sin and declared war on a holy God (Romans 5:12-21). It is true that all men are not viciously hateful toward Jesus. Some do not even give Him a thought. But spiritually, not being 100% devoted to God by not obeying Him perfectly 100% of the time, all of us are sinners, having fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Jesus said that if you love and serve the things of this world (wealth, fame, etc.), you hate God because you cannot serve both the pleasures of this life and God (Matthew 6:24). He said those who do not hate what is evil (using God’s definition of evil, not our relativistic one), hate the Light (John 3:20). And He was referring to Himself as the Light.
Why do people hate Jesus? Jesus made it clear that the reason sinful men hate Him is not to be found in Him, as though He is worthy of such hatred (John 15:25). No. The reason we hate Him is in us. The reason is our sin.
Question #2: Who was responsible for Jesus’s death?
The controversy over who was responsible for Jesus’s death is not a new one based on Gibson’s movie. People have debated this one since who knows when. The answer comes not from analyzing the record of Jesus’s trials, which are recorded in the New Testament of the Bible. The answer is found on Jesus’s own lips. Speaking of Himself as the Good Shepherd, three times in one paragraph Jesus said,
"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” John 10:11
“…even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:15
"For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” John 10:17-18
In the biblical account of Jesus’s death on the cross, after saying, “It is finished,” it says, “And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
From these passages it is clear that no one “killed Jesus.” He willingly laid His own life down. And as He said, He took it up again by rising from the dead three days later as recorded in numerous places in the New Testament of the Bible.
Question #3: Was Jesus’s suffering really as bad as the movie portrayed it?
After seeing Gibson’s film, as I exited the theater, I heard a man shaking his head and saying, “I just can’t believe that anyone would torture a person that much.” Jesus and the movie aside, the cruelties that people are capable of, especially in inflicting torture on their fellow human beings, is not only beyond belief, but well documented. Sadly, there is almost no end to what atrocities people are capable of inflicting on one another.
How far did Jesus’s torturers and executioners go in their mistreatment of Him? Study the historical records of Roman scourging and crucifixion. The picture is anything but pretty. The only hint given in the scriptures is found in Isaiah. Prophetically it was said that, “many were astonished” and “His appearance was marred more than any man and His form more than the sons of men” (Isaiah 52:14).
Taken at face value, His body was certainly abused greatly. But while not wanting to take away from His physical sufferings (because it is true and important!), Jesus’s physical sufferings were not the greatest sufferings He endured.
Think for a moment. What was Jesus’s preferred method of teaching? Parables. Stories drawn from the physical realm that teach lessons regarding the spiritual realm. Jesus’s most dramatic parable, He not only told, He lived out. It was His crucifixion. In that parable, the physical sufferings of Christ are a picture of the spiritual torture He endured. And the spiritual reality was infinitely more than the physical picture could possibly reveal.
Simply put, the wrath of Rome, as horrible as it was, was nothing compared to the wrath of almighty God. The suffering that purchased forgiveness of sins for human beings was not paid in physical beatings, a crown of thorns, mockery, or even the nails driven through His holy flesh that pegged Him to the Roman cross. The suffering that secured our salvation was receiving the infinite wrath of God due sinners.
How badly was Jesus beaten? Probably very badly; but the greatest punishment born by Jesus Christ for those who will believe in His name was the wrath of God.
As Christians, whether reading the gospel accounts or watching a film depiction of Christ’s Passion, let us remember that what happened spiritually is infinitely more than what happened physically.
Question #4: Why did He have to die so that we can live?
Michelle’s question supreme. Why did He have to die so that we can live? The key to understanding this is to understand something of human sin.
God is holy. Completely and perfectly holy. He is so pure that there is not even the potential of corruption in Him. He is so holy that He cannot embrace that which is unholy and still remain true to Himself.
God created man innocent, but not perfect because the potential for corruption most certainly did reside in Adam. When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them one commandment: do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There was nothing inherently sinful about that fruit. The sin was in disobeying God’s command. Adam and Eve did disobey God. Their sin has become a part of the human experience ever since. All of their offspring (all human beings ever born) are born sinners. We are all sinners by nature, and we are sinners by choice. Every time we do anything less than perfectly, we affirm the truthfulness of God’s Word that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Some choose not to believe this, but that is what the Bible says. Others may acknowledge their lack of perfection (sinfulness) but fail to see that it matters, since, after all, “Nobody’s perfect!” Again, the Bible teaches that there is a great consequence for sin. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The death spoken of is not simply physical death. It refers as well to the “second death,” which is the eternal wrath of God (Revelation 20:11-15).
God is holy. He is also just. He cannot wink at sin and still be true to His holiness. He must judge sin. But God is also loving, not desiring to condemn the human race—although He would be justified in doing so. Christ’s death on the cross satisfied both God’s justice and God’s love perfectly, not compromising either. Jesus Christ, Who alone is perfect, died in our place (not just through His physical suffering, but by receiving the wrath of God deserved by sinners) even though He did not deserve it. His perfect life earned the reward of righteousness, but He willingly received the just punishment for sin. Jesus has initiated and made possible the transaction of trading places with sinners when He willingly took the punishment we deserve for our sins. The transaction is completed when we sinners willingly acknowledge our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness, and that Jesus is God’s only means by which we may be forgiven. He has already taken the punishment we deserve for our sins. When we place our faith in Him, we receive the reward of righteousness that He alone deserves.
He died that we may live. He received the punishment for our sins so that we may receive the reward for His righteousness. He did His part 2,000 years ago on a cross outside Jerusalem. Our part is to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life in heaven by believing in Jesus Christ as our Substitute. Evidence that one’s belief is genuine is that it is accompanied by a desire to live in obedience to Him—though none of us has, or will do so perfectly this side of heaven.
Question #5: What do you think about Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ?
As interesting as the firestorm of debate about Mr. Gibson’s movie may be, when we stand before God in judgment, what we thought of the movie will not be a determining factor as to whether we spend eternity in heaven enjoying God’s love, or eternity in Hell suffering under God’s wrath. It’s not about the movie. What will matter is what we think about the real Jesus, Who really did suffer—not only the horror of Roman scourging and crucifixion, but the wrath of Almighty God.
My prayer for you, dear reader, is that if you haven’t, you will acknowledge your sin before a holy God, and place your trust in Christ Who died so that you can live.