Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?

Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross? March 30, 2015
Photo: RYGER / Shutterstock.com

This article is part of our new Head to Head debate feature. This week, in concert with our Engaging Easter coverage, I will be debating the Progressive Christian Channel’s Mark Sandlin of “The God Article”. The question: What did Jesus’ death on the cross actually DO?

Here is my opening post!

The question  “What Did Jesus’ Death on the Cross Actually Do?” can elicit a range of answers depending on whether one is interested in models of atonement, personal and social transformation, or shaping a host of areas ranging from prayer, to piety, to liturgy.

I suspect, however, that most readers are interested in which of the models/modes of atonement is the fairest of them all. Is it penal substitition, healing, demonstrate divine love, moral influence, restorative justice, Christus Victor, or whatever.

The first thing we have to say is that the NT gives a large cohort of images to describe what the cross achieves and we should acknowledge all of them. In a nutshell, the cross achieved:

– A ransom for sins (Mark 10:45; Matt 20:28).
– Protection from the tribulation and future judgment (Matt 23:37-39).
– Institutes the new covenant (Mark 14:22-25 and par.).
– Restores Israel and draws the nations into the family of Abraham (Mark 9:12; Luke 1:68; 2:38; 23:27-31; John 11: 51-52; Acts 3:18-21; 13:25-29; Gal 3:13; Rev 5:9-10).
– Rescue from the kingdom of darkness and the present evil age (Col 1:14; Gal 1:4).
– Reconciliation (Rom 5:10-11; 2 Cor 5:18-20; Eph 2:16; Col 1:20, 22).
– Redemption (Gal 3:13; 4:5; Rom 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor 1:30; 7:23; Eph 1:7, 14; Col 1:14; Heb 9:12; Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18; Rev 5:9).
– Justification (Rom 3:24; 5:9; Gal 2:21).
– Forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28; Luke 1:77; 23:24; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; 3:13; Heb 9:22; 1 John 1:9; Rev 1:6).
– Peace (Isa 53:5; Acts 10:36; Rom 5:1; Eph 2:14-17; Col 1:20).
– Healing (Exod 15:26; Isa 53:5; Mal 4:2; 1 Pet 2:24).
– Cleansing (1 Cor 6:11; Tit 2:14; Heb 1:3; 9:14-22; 10:2, 22; 1 John 1:7, 9; 2 Pet 1:9; Rev 7:14).
– An example to be followed (Phil 2:5-11; 1 Pet 2:21; Heb 12:1-4).

We should not focus on just one and ignore the others since they are all part of the kaleidoscope of NT images for what the cross achieves. In fact, I love how John Chrysostom drew on so many biblical images to explain what the cross achieved. He wrote:

For the cross destroyed the enmity of God towards man, brought about the reconciliation, made the earth Heaven, associated men with angels, pulled down the citadel of death, unstrung the force of the devil, extinguished the power of sin, delivered the world from error, brought back the truth, expelled the Demons, destroyed temples, overturned altars, suppressed the sacrificial offering, implanted virtue, founded the Churches. The cross is the will of the Father, the glory of the Son, the rejoicing of the Spirit, the boast of Paul, “for,” he says, “God forbid that I should boast save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” [Gal 6:14]. The cross is that which is brighter than the sun, more brilliant than the sunbeam: for when the sun is darkened then the cross shines brightly: and the sun is darkened not because it is extinguished, but because it is overpowered by the brilliancy of the cross. The cross has broken our bond, it has made the prison of death ineffectual, it is the demonstration of the love of God.

However, if we were to pick one ring to rule them all, one model which is perhaps capable of linking together  the others without relativizing them, then I’d probably say Christus Victor. I say that because the CV is the model which best unites Christology, kingdom, and soteriology together.

In want of a summarizing statement about what the cross achieved, we could say that the atonement is the climax of God’s project to put the world to right through the cross of Jesus. The cross brings God’s people into God’s place under God’s reign to share in God’s holy-loving-glory on account of the love that is demonstrated in the cross and the justice that is satisfied on the cross.

For those interested, see more in my Evangelical Theology chapter four.

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