By Michael Gilbert
August 27, 2006
Do you ever ponder the question, “Why did Jesus die on the cross?” Without a doubt, this question enters the mind of many people, only to be discarded without serious meditation. The Psalmist of old declared of the blessed man, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (Ps. 1:2, emph. mine—MG). Perry B. Cotham wrote in the Eight Annual Southwest Lectureship Book (pg.19), “What a man meditates upon determines the real inner man…For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. (Prov. 23:7)”. He was very accurate in what he wrote. It is the aim of this author to cause you meditate deeply upon the “WHY” of Jesus’ death on the cross.
When asked the question, “Why did Jesus die on the cross” the average denominational preacher in the area will simply say, “He died on the cross to save sinners.” He will then quote John 3:16 as if that verse is all a person needs to know in order to enter heaven. No wonder there is so much ignorance of the word of God in this county, and in this nation. In the remainder of this article, we are going to explore this question and go into more depth than the denominations. Why did Jesus die on the Cross?
To Save Sinners
This is the basic, fundamental and scriptural answer to the question. Jesus said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). All can agree on this, and all should agree on this. His purpose was not to heal the sick, although He did. His purpose was not to cause the blind to see, although He did. The miracles He performed played a vital part in His purposeful death on the cross, but His purpose was not to do miracles. Everything He did in this life revolved around the purpose found in Lk. 19:10.
When we had our backs turned away from God in rebellion, He still loved us and provided His Son as a sacrifice on our behalf. Paul wrote, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath to come” (Rom. 5:6-9). God reconciled us (made us friendly again) to Him. He gave His Son so that we could be reconciled to Him. We could not help ourselves (Rom. 5:6). God stepped in when we did not deserve it and offered His Son to an ungrateful, unholy people.
We were totally and wholly contrary to God and His character. Paul wrote, “And you hath He quickened (made alive—MG), who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:1-3). When man sins, he puts up a spiritual barrier between himself and God. Therefore, he dies spiritually because he is separated from that which gives life—God.
But there is a way out of this situation!! Paul again wrote, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace are ye saved;)”. God’s love (Eph. 2:4), God’s mercy (Eph. 2:4), and Christ’s sacrifice (Eph. 2:7) all play a part in the matchless grace of God, by which we are saved (Eph. 2:5, 8). Most, if not all, of the area denominations will teach that the grace of God is seen in the supreme sacrifice of His son on the cross—and that is why Jesus died on the cross—to save us by His wonderful grace. The denominations are absolutely correct! Having taught this, the majority of denominational preachers and members will say that in order to be saved, a sinner must believe what was just taught about Christ and that there is nothing more to it. But did you notice that what we have mentioned up to this point only teaches WHAT happened when Jesus died on the cross (namely, that His death was the means by which we are saved) and not HOW the sinner benefits from the death of Christ once he believes? An appropriate question then arises: How does a sinner benefit from the death of Christ once he believes that Jesus died for him? It is in no way, shape, form, or fashion by FAITH ALONE that the sinner benefits from the cleansing blood of the Savior. Once again, we ask the question: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
To Establish The Church
Within the Old Testament writings, there are at least three avenues of prophecy concerning How God would save people from sin. These prophecies involve—(1) the Lord’s House (the church); (2) the kingdom; and (3) the death of the Messiah. Let us explore these interconnected prophecies.
In the long ago, God’s prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when the Lord’s House would be established, and made great. He wrote, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s House shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it”(Is. 2:2). It is no secret that the man of God was speaking of the church for which Jesus died. Paul wrote to young Timothy, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). This house of God was to be established “in the last days” which is simply the time when Christ came to earth and instituted the church until time as we know it is no more (Acts 2:16-17; I Thess. 4:15-16; II Pet. 3:10-12).
In the glory days of the Kingdom of Israel, the prophet Nathan came to King David and made a promise to him. Nathan foretold, “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom forever” (II Sam. 7:12-13; emph. mine—MG). Years later, the godly Daniel also spoke of a kingdom that God would set up, which would never be destroyed (Daniel 2:44). Nathan’s prophecy, as well as Daniel’s, found fulfillment in the man from Nazareth, Jesus who is the Messiah. The inspired physician wrote, “And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women…And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:26-33).
Since some falter when it comes to the establishment of this kingdom and this house of God, let us show conclusively that these are one and the same institution. Peter, while preaching to the crowd on the first Pentecost after His resurrection, forcefully declared that the death of Jesus of Nazareth had been in the mind of God even before it took place (Acts 2:23; i.e., the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God). This death by cruel crucifixion was actually the fulfillment of God’s scheme of redemption for sinful man. Peter preached that Christ’s death on the cross, followed by His resurrection to the right hand of God, was the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy to King David! Listen to Peter, “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:29-32). Therefore, since Jesus is now on David’s throne, the kingdom was established. But did you notice what this kingdom was called? Those who believed Peter’s preaching, repented of their sins, and were baptized for the remission of their sins were added to the church (Acts 2:38, 47)! This means that the church and the kingdom are the same institution. The different terms simply denote the different aspects of this institution which was purchased with the blood of Christ.
In His death, the Messiah purchased the church (remember that we were in the clutches of sin, but once we became Christians we were washed in the blood of the Lamb). The apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Paul, in talking to the elders at Ephesus, made this statement, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It is the church that Jesus will save when this life is over because the church is washed in His blood! In order to get into the church, the blood-bought body of Christ (i.e., be saved), an individual must hear and understand about this church/kingdom (Rom. 10:17), believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Jn. 8:24), repent of their sins (Acts 2:38), confess their faith in Him (Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:9-10), and be immersed (baptized) into Christ for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; I Pet. 3:21). Then, and only then can a sinner be saved from his or her sins. Paul wrote by inspiration, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (I Cor. 12:13; the body is the church for which He died, Col. 1:18). Paul also taught, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). When a person is baptized into Christ (into the church about which we read in the Bible, not a false, man-made denomination), then that person becomes a Christian and is headed for heaven. We know that this is the only way to be saved because Paul made reference to “…the salvation which is in Christ…” (II Tim. 2:10), and then wrote of being “…baptized into Christ…” (Gal. 3:27). No one can be saved outside of Christ—His body, the church. But we ask again—why did Jesus die on the cross?
To Establish The New Testament
Thus far, we have established that Jesus death on the cross was to secure the salvation of sinners. The means by which sinners benefit from His death is to simply become a Christian, a member of the church for which He died. One more point needs to be made—organizations must have rules by which they are governed. The Lord’s church is no different.
The prophet Jeremiah, about 600 years before Christ was born, prophesied about a new covenant (the rules by which the church would be governed; Jer. 31:31-34). The Hebrews’ writer explains to us that Jesus is the mediator of this better covenant (i.e., Matthew through Revelation—the covenant that Jesus taught while upon earth). Jesus Himself declared that His blood was shed for the new testament when He said to His disciples, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). The Hebrews’ writer also tells us that a testament is “of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth” (Heb. 9:17). Therefore, Jesus shed His precious blood on the cross to bring into effect the covenant which can bring man into fellowship with God. This is why Jesus said that His redeeming blood was the blood of the new testament, which was shed for the remission (taking away) of sins (Matt. 26:28).
Here is the sum total of all that has been written: (1) Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. (2) Sinners are saved by His blood when they are baptized into the one church/kingdom for which He died. (Acts 20:28). (3) The rules for this church/kingdom (which is made up of Christians) are found in the pages of the New Testament (Matthew – Revelation), which was sealed by His shed blood on the cross. If we understand this, then we can be saved.