God sent his Son into the world that he might ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of himself’, for ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’ (Hebrews 9:26; 1 Corinthians 15:3).
This is what sets the death of Christ apart from all other deaths. Everyone born into this sad world is under sentence of death because of sin – for death is the ultimate fruit of sin (Romans 5:12; Ezekiel 18:4; James 1:15). No member of the human family is exempt, for none are without sin.
But the Lord Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, is without sin, and was therefore not subject to death. Yet, in the love and mercy of God, he went voluntarily to his death ‘for our sins’ (John 10:18; 1 Peter 2:24).
A death apart
He paid the debt of sin to God so that we, in the matchless grace of God, might escape the eternal consequence of our transgressions – ‘the lake of fire … the second death’ (Revelation 20:15).
Many today, even among the leaders of the religious world, claim that Christ died a martyr’s death, suffering merely for his beliefs. Alas, if that were true, poor sinners like ourselves would have no hope. Thank God, it is not so.
His was a vicarious death, both sacrificial (for sin) and substitutionary (for the sinner). It is therefore a death apart, distinct from all others – and on that account, separate or holy. The holiness of the death of Christ is prefigured superlatively in the old covenant sin offering, concerning which the Lord told Moses, ‘it is most holy’ (Leviticus 6:25,29).
In the same way, the tabernacle and all its offerings were holy – it had ‘the holy place, and the most holy [literally, the holy of holies]’, where the high priest sprinkled sacrificial blood on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 26:33; Hebrews 9:7,11-12). Thus the Holy Spirit conveys to us that Christ’s death is holy in the highest degree – and thus effectual, acceptable to God for our redemption.
Christ did not remain dead – he rose again to life. This truth is scoffed at by many and denied by even more, but it is absolutely fundamental to our Christian faith. For ‘if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins … If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
‘But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept … Christ the first fruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming’ (1 Corinthians 15:17-23).
The one on whom death had no claim, ‘became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’, to atone for our sins. But God raised him up, ‘having loosed the pains of death; because it was not possible that he should be holden of it’ (Acts 2:24).
Accordingly, taught by the Spirit, Paul reasons from the historical realities of Christ’s death and resurrection to the believer’s deliverance and justification: ‘[He] was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).
By his resurrection, the dying victim of Golgotha became the victor. Having conquered the grave, he has brought all the redeemed beyond the reach and power of death – and that for all eternity: ‘Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory”‘ (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Because we have faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ we can say, even now, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be unto God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (vv. 55-56).
Furthermore, we read that ‘Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father’ (Romans 6:4). This surely testifies that the work of atonement has been perfectly completed. Sin has been ‘put away’ for ever and the Father’s glory is manifested on the resurrection morn.
In the opening verses of Romans, Paul tells us that Jesus Christ our Lord ‘was … declared [marked out] to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1:3-4).
Glorious resurrection! It was the seal of heaven’s approval on the work of Christ – the clear testimony of the Holy Spirit that the meek and lowly Jesus was the mighty Son of God, who has conquered sin and death for all his people.
Finally, consider Christ seated in glory – ‘on the right hand of the Majesty on high’ (Hebrews 1:3). The exaltation and glory he has in heaven flows from his finished work on earth: ‘He humbled himself … Wherefore God has highly exalted him’ (Philippians 2:8-9).
The Father has given his Son the highest place in heaven, ‘far above all principality and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come’ (Ephesians 1:21).
He who was despised and rejected on earth will soon come forth in glory and power to ‘subdue all things unto himself’. With the writer to the Hebrews we can rejoice that while we do not yet see all things accomplished, we do ‘see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour’ (Hebrews 2:9).
He, who on earth was distinct and unique – as to his birth, his sinless life, his atoning death, and his resurrection – is seated on ‘the throne of God and of the Lamb’, incomparable in glory and exaltation (Revelation 22:1-3).
Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious,
See the Man of Sorrows now,
From the fight return victorious:
Every knee to him shall bow.
Crown him! Crown him!
Crowns become the Victor’s brow.
Crown him! Crown him!
‘King of Kings, and Lord of Lords’.