Again and again, the Bible brings us back to the death of Jesus. We encounter phrases like, “He died so that…” or “For this reason he died….” Christ accomplished more in his death than we can ever imagine. On that old rugged cross, there was far much more going on than any one onlooker could have possibly pieced together.
Christians are in a school of the cross, ever seeing more deeply into the meaning of the death. The death stands at the center of our theology. If Good Friday lasted for ten or even ten thousand years, we would still have more on which to meditate.
Christians are in a school of the cross, ever seeing more deeply into the meaning of the death.
Albert Barnes poses a practical challenge:
I entreat you to devote one solemn hour of thought to a crucified Savior—a Savior expiring in the bitterest agony. Think of the cross, the nails, the open wounds, the anguish of His soul. Think how the Son of God became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, that you might live forever. Think as you lie down upon your bed to rest, how your Savior was lifted up from the earth to die. Think amid your plans and anticipations of future gaiety what the redemption of your soul has cost, and how the dying Savior would wish you to act. His wounds plead that you will live for better things.
Here are ten reasons why Jesus died, according to the Scriptures — reasons for thankfulness and meditation on Good Friday and every day throughout the year.
1. Jesus Died to Make Forgiveness Possible
Jesus paid the legal penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 3:23), so that God would have a basis on which to forgive fallen man. If the legal penalty had not been paid, God would have needed to ignore his justice and overlook our sins in order to forgive—which is impossible. Justice is a perfection of God’s character; therefore, forgiveness is not possible until justice is satisfied. Hebrews 9:22 confirms that “without the shedding of blood is no forgiveness of sins.”
Since we cannot pay the penalty for sin — since the price is too high — Jesus stepped in and paid it on our behalf. This was acceptable in the sight of God the Father. Jesus told his disciples, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28, ESV), and it is in these terms that Ephesians 1:7 describes the position of those who are in Christ by faith: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
2. Jesus Died to Absorb the Wrath of God
“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13). We are familiar with the benediction, “May the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you” (Numbers 6:24). To be blessed is to have God’s face of shining approval upon you; on the other hand, to be cursed is to have God’s face of divine displeasure—Jehovah’s dread frown—set against you.
To absorb the curse of God’s wrath, Jesus died a cursed death. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “Is there anything more in His having been ‘crucified’ than if He had suffered some other death?” and answers, “Yes, for thereby I am assured that He took upon Himself the curse which lay upon me, because the death of the cross was accursed of God.” On the cross, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God.
It would not have been wrong for God to utterly destroy sinful humanity in swift and unsparing judgment, but He held back and stored up his wrath until it could be poured out on Christ in our place.
According to 1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (emphasis added). For “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25, emphasis added). It would not have been wrong for God to utterly destroy sinful humanity in swift and unsparing judgment, but He held back and stored up his wrath until it could be poured out on Christ in our place.
The word “propitiation” refers to the removal of God’s wrath. But we should not think that God’s wrath is merely appeased, as if He needed to be pacified; instead, His wrath is poured out on a substitute, since God’s justice must be satisfied. The substitute is Jesus—a substitute that God Himself provided. The cup that Jesus feared in Gethsemane and drank on the cross is the cup of the Lord’s wrath (Matthew 26:39, cf. Jeremiah 25:15); the moment when he drank it, He let out that bitter wail, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
3. Jesus Died to Set Us Free from Sin
At the church where I pastor, the children love to request the song “There Is Power in the Blood.” It is a regular reminder that we need sin-breaking power. Thankfully, “There is power, power, wonder-working power in the precious blood of the Lamb.” “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). We say with Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16). “Would you be free from the burden of sin? There’s power in the blood, power in the blood.” And “The blood that Jesus shed for me, way back on Calvary…. It will never lose its power” (“The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power”).
Our experience confirms the words of Jesus that “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” (John 8:34). The glorious message of the Bible was summarized by Charles Wesley when he wrote, “my chains fell off!” This chain-breaking, sin-crushing, life-changing power is unleashed by the blood of Jesus. John writes, “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:5-6, emphasis added).
In order for the creatures to die to sin — both inwardly and outwardly — Jesus first had to die for sin. For “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed” (1 Peter 2:24). On the cross, he paid the penalty for our sins, setting us free from its claim on our lives. Since the oppressive yoke no longer hangs over our head, we can shake loose our guilty fears and willingly submit to the yoke of righteousness — a comparatively light and infinitely more joyful burden.
The chain-breaking, sin-crushing, life-changing power of God is unleashed by the blood of Jesus.
4. Jesus Died to Make Us Holy
No degree of ceremonial cleanness makes us suitable for the immediate presence of God; we need a perfect atonement. Jesus made a way through His perfect sacrifice for our sins to be forgiven and permanently removed. God’s wrath is propitiated because sin is actually taken away — we are actually made holy. For “by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). Hebrews 13:12 confirms, “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate.”
We are told in 1 Corinthians 5:7 to “purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” The motivating reason for us to live as clean dough, free from the yeast of sin, is that Christ became our Passover sacrifice — a holy lamb without spot or blemish, crushed for the sins of the people. “You, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:21-22).
5. Jesus Died to Take Away Guilt and Condemnation
Although the ceremonial sacrifices could not perfect the conscience, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14). Our conscience is free from guilt because we know that “there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
A guilty conscience is a crushing load to carry. The only way to be free from the fear of condemnation is to confess, repent, and trust in the atonement to “be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure” (“Rock of Ages”). “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
6. Jesus Died to Reconcile Us to God
“For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10). That we are enemies of God is a key element of the gospel. Sin is not just a violation of God’s law—it is a personal offense against a personal God. David recognized, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51:4). Not only does humanity need a way to be legally justified but also a way to be personally reconciled. The hope of the Scriptures is that “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
This death of Christ brings us to God. Christ did not just end the war or make God amiable towards us. He restored the relationship, bringing us near.
In fact, the word “reconciliation” alone may not be strong enough to describe what Christ did. In 1 Peter 3:8, we read that “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” The death of Christ brings us to God. Christ did not just end the war or make God amiable towards us. He restored the relationship so that Paul can confidently say, “but now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Nearness and intimacy with the one true and living God is the aim of our redemption. In the end, God is the gospel. The glory and beauty of the Heavenly Father is the crowning jewel of the atoning work.
7. Jesus Died to Become Our Eternal High Priest
A priest must have something to offer God. In times past, imperfect priests offered temporary sacrifices. It was the will of God for Jesus to be our high priest forever; thus, He came as a perfect priest to offer a permanent solution for the problem of human sin. The book of Hebrews has much to say about Christ as our eternal high priest.
For “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12).
He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. (Hebrews 7:25-27; see also Hebrews 9:24-26)
8. Jesus Died to Destroy the Works of the Devil
“For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ’s “manifestation” refers especially to his death on the cross because of what Jesus said when He predicted that the Son of Man would be lifted up: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).
The victory was already secured on the cross and the devil’s time is short.
The Palm Sunday crowd cheered Christ as they anticipated His battle with Rome, the only thing standing in the way of Him establishing an earthly kingdom. However, they cried “crucify Him” because they failed to see that His real battle was with Satan, the greater foe standing in the way of His spiritual kingdom.
In His death, he was sealing the fate of the devil, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15). Still to this day, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12); however, we have the confidence that the victory was already secured on the cross and the devil’s time is short.
9. Jesus Died to Show God’s Love for Sinners
Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Is it not incredible that He laid down his life for his enemies? Romans 5:7-8 says it best: “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Yes, “that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me” because in the cross we see the love of God clearly displayed. It is no wonder that John 3:16 is synonymous with the message of the cross: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Love—not nails—held Jesus to the cross.
10. Jesus Died So We Could Live Forever
Finally, Jesus “died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10). For us, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain. … My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:21-23). “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Passage to eternal life in heaven was purchased on the cross, along with all of our other spiritual blessings.
It is clear that because of the death of Jesus, we will be with him immediately after death. “And so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). For now, it is our responsibility to tell others so that they too may live forever with Him in heaven. He gave His son “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Passage to eternal life in heaven was purchased on the cross, along with all of our other spiritual blessings.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification, eternal inheritance, and many other blessings would be impossibilities without His atoning death. The least we can do is “devote one solemn hour of thought to a crucified Savior” (Barnes) — to “survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.”
Crouch, Andrae. “438, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power.” Sing to the Lord (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993).
Jones, Lewis E. “449, There is Power in the Blood.” Sing to the Lord (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993).
The Heidelberg Catechism: Modern English Version, 450th Anniversary Edition (The Reformed Church in the United States, 2013).
Wesley, Charles. “225, And Can It Be?” Sing to the Lord (Kansas City, MO: Lillenas Publishing Co., 1993).