The Atonement – What Did Jesus Die From?

Make no mistake, crucifixion is a horrific thing. This is how one writer describes it:

“Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows … However, this manoeuvre would place the entire weight of the body on the tarsals and would produce searing pain. Furthermore, flexion of the elbows would cause rotation of the wrists about the iron nails and cause fiery pain along the damaged median nerves … Muscle cramps and paresthesias of the outstretched and uplifted arms would add to the discomfort. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.”

Journal of the American Medical Association 1986

And yet, it was not the crucifixion itself that killed Jesus. He died much too quickly for that. Rather, it was the shock of being separated from the love of God and instead receiving the wrath of God.

It is clear that on the cross Jesus was suffering great anguish that exceeded the natural pain He would be expected to experience. Where did this come from? Jesus’ heart-rending cry on the cross was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The answer is clear—Jesus was forsaken on the cross because God in His nuclear reactor of holiness could not bear to look upon the sin that Jesus had taken into His flesh. In some mysterious way, without destroying the unity of the Trinity, at that moment a chasm occurred in the very nature of God as He found a way to do the unthinkable and deal with the sin that simply could not exist within His nature.

Thus the age-old question can be asked — Who killed Jesus? We could, of course, answer this in many ways — the Jews, the Romans, the Devil, you and me, — but ultimately the cross was God’s plan.

Who killed Jesus? God planned and purposed the death of Christ and ensured that it would occur at the right time:

“… this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23)

Thus, it is quite correct to say that the Jews, the Romans, and the “powers of this world” killed Jesus — claiming God in a sense “killed” Him is in no way intended to remove these causes for His death. An event can have multiple causes.

God should NOT be seen, however, as morally responsible for the death of Jesus — He is not and never has been the author of sin. Thus phrases like “God murdered Jesus” or “Jesus committed suicide” are NOT helpful or correct!

Also, it is vital to remove the charge of injustice at God’s door, for us to remember that Christ laid down His own life voluntarily.

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18 )

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