Five Reasons Jesus Christ Died on the Cross
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ is the pivotal point in human history and God’s revelation in the Scriptures. From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus Christ is the central figure. The purpose of His coming was foretold in the Old Testament and then announced and celebrated in the New Testament. For this reason, understanding why Christ died (and rose from the dead) is of paramount importance. Although from a careful study of Scripture, we may conclude many more reasons, here we will recall five of the reasons that quickly rise to the surface; moving from the general to the particular.
1. Jesus Christ died as an act of worship to God the Father.
The highest, and often overlooked, reason for the death of Jesus Christ is the pleasure of God. While it is true that Jesus Christ died to save sinners, this is not the pre-eminent reason for the atonement. Above this, Jesus died as an act of obedient worship to God the Father. Philippians 2:8-10 teaches us, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name…” There is a direct connection between the crucifixion death of Christ and His relationship and service to God the Father. In fact, every aspect of Jesus’ earthly life involved an intentionally worshipful submission to the Father. In the most intense moments of His agony, Jesus pursued sacrifice of Himself to achieve the Father’s will. “And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’.”1
2. Jesus Christ died to please God.
Not only did Jesus die to worship God, but also to please God. In Isaiah’s prophecy we read, “The Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.”2 Twice in the passage, we read of God’s pleasure in both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God the Father was pleased to crush Jesus and, subsequently, the pleasure of God the Father prospered in Christ’s living hand. God was pleased to put Christ to death as a remedy for sin in His world.
3. Jesus Christ died to illuminate the goodness of God.
Inextricably linked to the worship and pleasure of God in Christ’s death is the glorification of God’s goodness through the atonement. To glorify something or someone is to magnify or shine a light. Jesus died to shine a light on the goodness of God. Just as the entire earthly life of Jesus Christ was profitable to glorify God, His death was equally magnificent. After foretelling of His death and resurrection, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.3 Through His death, Jesus shined an infinitely brilliant spotlight on the goodness of God the Father who freely gave His Son as a sufficient sacrifice for sin.
4. Jesus Christ died to destroy the works of the devil.
The central theme of the Gospel is the theme of God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign over all affairs of the world. As a part of this, we must agree that God is also sovereign over the spirit world and the devil. Within this theme, a key accomplishment of the Gospel is the utter defeat dealt to Satan through the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, the defeat of Satan is so important to the Gospel that John wrote, “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”4 While the tempter is not to blame for the trials, trouble, suffering, and sin of the world, he is blamed with influence and is credited as the ruler of the world order.
Logically, then, the defeat and destruction of the devil is a means to both the glory of God and the following reason for Christ’s death, the redemption of a people for God’s possession. Through the cross, Christ not only removed the certificate of debts against sinners, but also disarmed and triumphed over the rules and authorities of the spiritual realm.5
5. Jesus Christ died to redeem a people for God’s possession.
At this point, one may be tempted to think but I thought Jesus died for sinners. These answers don’t seem to have anything to do with us. In one sense, this is correct. Christ’s death on the cross is far more about God than it is about people. At the same time, it is about us, but not in the way we naturally think. Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself as a propitiation for sinful humanity, but this aspect of His death provided the redemption of mankind as a means to an end, not an end in itself. The popular view today is that Jesus’ death is first and foremost about saving people from their sins. Instead, Christ died for sinners to provide a means to the end of God’s glory, pleasure, and worship. At the same time, we must not forget the fact that God loves us. What a revelation! The perfect and righteous God, who holds all things together, holds us with His loving hand. Through Christ’s death on the cross, God the Father demonstrated His profound love for us. He love us. He really loves us!
The apostle Paul explains, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”6 Christ’s death has accomplished just that: a growing family of people who are possessed, purified, and zealous for God’s pleasure. Two central works of the gospel, then, are salvation and sanctification. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, God is calling people to Himself and, subsequently, conforming them to the likeness of Christ to make them useful and able to glorify Him forever.
There is perhaps nothing more beneficial than to explore the bottomless riches of the Gospel by studying Christ’s work on the cross. May these five reasons Christ died nudge us further into the wonder of the cross.