Every true Christian agrees that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is a momentous event. It is the focal point of history; it is the supreme demonstration of the love of God; it is the means of our salvation; it is the message we bring to a lost world; it will be our theme eternally. It is all that, and much, much more.
Anyone attempting to write about it must be deeply conscious that he cannot even begin to do justice to it. None can plumb its unfathomable depths or scale the heights to which it should raise our hearts. Writings on it could fill huge volumes, as indeed they have done. That is not the purpose of these articles, and we must limit ourselves to a broad overview of basic, fundamental truths. Our earnest prayer is that readers who are already grounded in these things will be encouraged; that those young in the faith will be instructed; and that all our hearts will be stimulated to greater love and worship of the One Who loved us and gave Himself for us.
We will consider this precious subject under three headings this month, and in the months ahead:
The Cause of His Death
The Character of His Death
The Consequences of His Death.
The Cause of His Death
As we ask the question, “Why did Christ die?” we need not detain ourselves with the empty notions of the proud theorists of this world, who, if they are openly hostile to the Lord Jesus, will proffer answers that are deeply offensive to godly souls. If, however, they claim to be sympathetic to Him, they will give explanations that, at best, paint Him as no more than a good man Who stood up for what He believed in, and died as a martyr, as have many others over the years.
We turn, with relief, from the idle speculations of men to the unerring Word of God, where we see the roles of different people in the death of the Lord Jesus, and we are given an insight into their reasons for delivering Him up to be crucified. We are told repeatedly of the desire of the leaders of the nation to put Him to death, and their motive is concisely stated in Matthew 27:18: “He (Pilate) knew that for envy they had delivered Him.” As well as that general motive, a more specific motive was indicated by the chief of that hypocritical bunch, Caiaphas, the high priest, who advocated that He be killed to preserve the nation from being destroyed by the Romans (John 11:46-53).
As well as the rulers, Judas Iscariot played his part in the delivering up of the Lord, and his reasons were, at least in part, financial: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, ‘What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you?’ And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver” (Matt 26:14,15). Many have suggested further, hidden motives, about which we cannot be sure.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, who passed the death sentence, also had his reasons for his part in the death of the Lord Jesus – a fear of civil disorder and his being put out of favor with Caesar: “When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it'” (Matt 27:24).
While these factors, (hatred, the desire for self-preservation, financial motives, and fear), are all true, they do not take us to the real reason for the death of the Lord Jesus. We must move from the seen world to the unseen world. We are told that Satan was working behind the scenes. We read, for example, that Judas began his treacherous activities consequent upon Satan entering into him (Luke 22:3-6), and the Lord pointedly told those arresting Him that “this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).
Yet, to find the cause of the death of the Lord Jesus, we must go still further. While evil men, and their evil master, had their motives and methods, the true reason was not the machinations of people, but the counsels of God; and the source of the plan was not satanic, but divine. It was not simply a plot hatched out in earth’s history, but a plan that was determined before the foundation of the world. Peter’s summary at Pentecost cannot be surpassed: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23).
Why did God determine that His Son must die? Doubtless every reader knows the answer, yet let not our familiarity with it desensitize us to the gloriousness of it: “Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26); “Christ died for our sins” (1Cor 15:3); “Christ died for the ungodly … while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:6,8); “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1Peter 3:18).
It was because His death was the only means by which God – Who is holy and righteous, yet loving and gracious – could save lost sinners, destined to perish eternally. All other causes of His death are subsumed within that great overarching cause. He “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Rom 8:32). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). That is the reason why Christ died.