Q: Why did Jesus have to die?
A: In one sense, we can say that Jesus did not have to die. Conceived and born untainted by sin and death, He chose to die in order to save us from our sins. He freely followed His Father’s will, assumed human flesh, lived among us, and then bore the suffering for our sins in His own body through the torture and death worked by the Jewish leaders and the Romans.
We could, however, also say that Jesus did have to die. First of all, His Father chose to sacrifice His Son rather than banish sinful mankind to an eternity of suffering. Also, Christ died because the Scriptures which point to the coming Savior “require” his suffering and death. The most noted of these is probably Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Through the prophet, the Lord predicts what would happen to His faithful Servant: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. (53:5)” He was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter (53:7)” and “was cut off out of the land of the living. (53:8)” Finally, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (53:9)”
God cannot go back on His Word. From Creation’s dawn, He warned that sin always results in death. Someone had to die, either one innocent Man or millions and millions of guilty people. Through Paul, God said, “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)” However, God applied the “wages” earned by His sinless Son as payment in full on our accounts and credited us with Jesus’ perfection. Likewise, the deathly wages that were our due were paid in full to Jesus in His suffering and death. Because of this, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I’ve answered some related questions at different times. For a fuller understanding, you might also read A Christian Response to Suffering and Death, The Humanity and Deity of Christ, and The Cross: Symbol and Scandal.
Paintings by Pieter Pauwel Rubens from the altar of the Antwerp Cathedral. Displayed at the Web Gallery of Art.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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