Why did Jesus die?
Why did Jesus Christ die? Could there be a more important question for any of us than that? If you had been outside the city walls of Jerusalem that epoch-changing day, the answer would have seemed obvious.
Jesus died because he was crucified. The six-inch-long Roman spikes through his hands and feet held him tight to that wooden cross. The professional soldiers knew how to kill a man by the lingering death of crucifixion.
Once they had nailed their victim in a horizontal position, they hoisted the cross to a vertical position, often with a juddering jolt. Hanging between heaven and earth, Jesus died because he was left to die on a cross. But the truth goes far deeper than that – Jesus died because Pontius Pilate ordered his death.
Only this callous Roman procurator of Judea had the judicial power of life and death in occupied Palestine. Though he was warned through his wife’s dream and by his meeting with Jesus, Pilate for once felt forced to bow to the Jewish demands, which were for Jesus’ blood. And so Jesus was duly flogged and executed.
The Apostles’ Creed declares that Jesus ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’, but Pilate was not in the last analysis responsible for the Son of God’s death. The truth bites deeper than that. For it was the Jewish religious leaders who, out of jealousy, begged Pilate to kill Jesus.
They could not do his miracles and did not enjoy the popularity he had. Worse still, their precious vested interests were threatened. The Sadducees were the rich group of Jews who supplied the high priests and controlled the temple revenues. Jesus had dared to ‘clean up’ the temple and denounce the corrupt way it was run.
Caiaphas the high priest argued that it was expedient for Jesus, with his blasphemous claims to have a ‘hot line’ to God, to be eliminated. As for the Pharisees, the nationalist party – many of whom were proud, self-righteous, legalistic Jews – they writhed when Jesus publicly dubbed them as ‘hypocrites’, ‘snakes’ and ‘whitewashed tombs’ and regarded him with bitter enmity.
But who got Jesus into the murderous hands of the Sadducees, the ruling religious party, a group concerned to maintain the status quo? It was Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for thirty silver coins.
Chosen as an apostle and then as their treasurer, Judas proved to be a thief before he turned traitor. It was his kiss of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane that led, humanly speaking, to his leader’s arrest.
But the truth bites even deeper yet, for behind Judas Iscariot was Satan himself. It was Satan, the usurping angel-prince of this world, who entered Judas. John wrote that as soon as Judas took the bread offered him by Jesus, ‘Satan entered into him’ (John 13.27).
Satan had tempted Christ in the desert too and was branded by Jesus as a murderer and liar.
But even now we have not got to the heart of the answer. There are still onion-like layers of fact to be peeled away before we get to the core. For the amazing truth is that Christ died because he chose to die.
He allowed wicked men to arrest, mock, torture and kill him! As he put it, ‘No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord’. He went willingly and open-eyed to his death.
As the submissive lamb of God, he sacrificed himself on the cross. Yet why did the holy, all-powerful Son of God let himself be killed? For what or for whom did he die?
Praise God, he died for us – for our sins! He who was sinless was made sin for us, sinful humans. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for weak, helpless, foolish, lost sheep. He loved us to death.
We may not know, we cannot tell
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
Have you yet believed that gigantic truth and received Jesus Christ into your life as your own sin-bearer and deliverer? In a very real sense it was our sins that sent Jesus to the cross.
But even now we have not fully answered our original question. The Son of God died, above all, because he obeyed his Father’s will.At last we have reached the heart of the matter. God is love and he loved us so much that in his initiating wisdom he ‘gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’.
Whoever now believes in Jesus, trusts and follows him, and seeks with his help to love and serve him, begins to enjoy here and now on earth, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, God’s eternal life.