It’s a central tenet of Christianity: Jesus died for the sins of mankind, was buried in a tomb, and was resurrected three days later (I Cor. 15:3-4). Of the more than two billion people who profess to be Christian, most agree with this biblical teaching, though they disagree on nearly everything else found in the Bible.
In fact, most churches focus entirely on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and that He is the Savior of the world. Their ministers preach incessantly about Jesus’ shed blood for our sins. They tell the masses to “give their hearts to Jesus” and to accept Him as their personal Savior. This, they say, is the only way to avoid roasting forever in hellfire. Once a person “accepts Jesus,” they believe, he or she is guaranteed a “place in heaven.”
There is constant talk about God’s mercy and His “free gift” of salvation through the death of Jesus to anyone who will accept it. To them, obedience is not necessary—only that one accepts Jesus into his heart. After all, God is full of grace and mercy. Surely He will endlessly forgive all of my sins, the thinking goes.
Lost in all of this is the real reason Jesus died. Most simply do not understand the tremendous price that was paid—why it was necessary that someone pay it—and the intended goal.
What about you?
Made Into Flesh
The book of John begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (1:1-2). These verses reveal that two Beings existed “in the beginning.” One is the Word; the other is God.
Furthermore, we see that the Word was also God, meaning that the Word is an eternal Being, since He is God. But He (the Word) is separate from God. He existed in the beginning with God. Thus, two eternal Beings—not one “triune” being, as most assume—are mentioned here. “The Word was with God” clearly shows this fact.
The Word is the same Being called YHVH in the Old Testament—the Being who interacted with ancient Israel, who thundered the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai. We do not know the pronunciation of this word. It was regarded as so sacred in ancient Judah that no one would utter it. (For more information, you may wish to read “Should Christians Use Sacred Names?”)
Yet we do know the word’s meaning: the “self-existent” One or “the Eternal.” In other words, the Being known as YHVH in ancient Israel has existed forever—for all eternity. He is an eternal Spirit Being, having neither beginning of days nor end of life. He was never brought into existence and cannot die. Life is inherent within Him, as seen in verse 4: “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.”
The Word was instrumental in re-creating the earth nearly 6,000 years ago. He is the One who “spoke, and it was done” (Psa. 33:9) and said, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). Then, using the Holy Spirit (the power that emanates from God, not a third person of a trinity), “there was light.” Verse 3 of John reveals that the Word was the Being who created not just the earth, but all things, including the immense universe with its trillions of stars and planets: “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”
Yet, long ago, it was determined that the Word—the ever-living One who created all things—must die (Matt. 25:34; Rev. 13:8). For this to happen, He had to divest Himself of His eternal life and become a flesh-and-blood human being, born of a woman.
This brings us to John 1:14: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” This verse has perplexed millions throughout the ages. How could God become a human being?, many wonder.
But there it is in plain English: “the Word was made flesh,” or became flesh. All one must do is believe it. Exactly how God was converted from Spirit into flesh is beyond human comprehension, but that He became a literal human being is not.
When He became flesh, the Word was named Jesus: “And she [Mary] shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name JESUS” (Matt. 1:21).
The Greek word for Jesus comes from the Hebrew word yehoshua, which means “he will save” or “YHVH is salvation.” This name was not given by accident. It shows us that Jesus, formerly known as the Word, was born for a particular purpose: to save. We see this in the second part of verse 21: “He shall save His people from their sins.” Jesus was born for the purpose of saving human beings.
Yes, Jesus was a human being. When He was changed into flesh, the life that kept Him alive resided in the blood, as is the case with all human beings (Lev. 17:11). When a person inhales, oxygen eventually enters the bloodstream and oxygenates the blood, thus making life possible. Jesus relied on His blood for life. He no longer had eternal life residing within Himself. Without His blood, Jesus would not have been able to exist. When He was crucified, Jesus’ life went out of Him in His blood. He shed blood, not spirit.
Jesus was also fully God—He was human (born of a woman) and divine (begotten by the Father). He was “God with us” (Matt. 1:23) in the flesh. The Word did not merely enter into a fleshly body and become God inside of, and separate from, His human body. He was God “manifest in the flesh” (I Tim. 3:16). “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same” (Heb. 2:14).
In other words, Jesus was flesh and blood, just like any other human being! Why? For the purpose of being subject to death! So “that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil…For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels [Jesus was not composed of spirit]; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham [became flesh and blood]. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren [flesh and blood]…to make reconciliation [through death] for the sins of the people” (vs. 14, 16-17).
At His birth, Jesus took on the nature of a human being (though He possessed the Holy Spirit without measure). He was tempted in all points just as we are (Heb. 4:15), and He suffered throughout His life, as we do. He was forced to endure and resist the pulls of the flesh. God became man so that He could live a perfect, sinless life and die. His shed blood—His sacrifice—would free us from eternal death (the penalty for sinning – Rom. 6:23) and allow the possibility of our receiving eternal life. Without Jesus’ death, there would be no hope for mankind beyond the grave—everyone would die in his sins, and remain dead for eternity.
Dead?—or Alive Somewhere Else?
Tens of millions—if not billions—believe that when Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40), He was not truly dead. They contend that Jesus was actually alive, that only His physical body was dead.
Yet the Scriptures plainly reveal that Jesus died and was buried in the grave, and was not conscious. When Jesus rose three days and three nights later, He did not rise from life! He rose from death! Notice Romans 14:9: “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.”
Two important points emerge from this scripture: (1) Through His death and resurrection, Jesus became Lord (Greek: “to rule, have dominion over, exercise lordship over”) of the living and the dead. He paid the penalty for our past sins and opened the door for both the dead and the living to receive eternal life; (2) Jesus rose from a state of unconsciousness (death).
Most overlook the word “revived” in this passage. But its meaning clearly shows that Jesus rose from death, not life as most believe. The Greek word translated revived is anazao, and it means to “recover life, live again, revive.” When Jesus rose, His life was recovered from death—He lived again! He did not continue living, as He was previously dead—in a state of physical and mental inactivity! Ecclesiastes 9:5 applied to Jesus, just like all human beings: “For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing [because they are not conscious], neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Also see verse 10.)
Think of it like this: While buried in the grave, Jesus was as much “out of it” as a boxer who is knocked out cold. But Jesus was not only unconscious, He was dead. He was one step beyond a boxer. Yet like a boxer, Jesus was revived back to a state of awareness!
Why then do so many oppose the Word of God and believe that Jesus only died physically, that He continued living as a spirit somewhere else? Some even assert that Jesus preached to “spirits in prison” while His physical body was in the grave for three days and three nights. (To learn more, read The Bible’s Difficult Scriptures Explained!)
If this were the case, then we have no Savior, and the penalty of your sins is still in effect! You are still under the death penalty—without hope of eternal life, “for the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Only the death—not life somewhere else!—of a perfect, sinless human being could pay this debt. Only God in the flesh could save mankind. Since He created all human beings, Jesus’ life was worth more than all of our lives combined.
You will not find anywhere in Scripture that Jesus was alive and active while in the grave, or that He re-entered His physical body when He was resurrected. Those who conclude this err in their reading of God’s Word.
Rather, the Father—who was still in heaven ruling the universe—raised Jesus from the dead. It was not possible for a dead Jesus to raise Himself. Life cannot come from dead matter; it can only come from other life. The Father had life inherent within Him, and thus was able to resurrect Jesus to eternal life. In turn, Jesus is now able to impart eternal life to mankind: “For as the Father raises up the dead, and quickens them; even so the Son quickens [Greek: “to make alive, give life”] whom He will…For as the Father has life in Himself; so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:21, 26).
Sin = Debt
Some might wonder, Couldn’t God have just forgiven man’s sin? Was the death of the all-powerful Creator of all things really necessary? After all, Jesus had much to say about forgiveness.
For example, in the book of Luke, Jesus told the story of a creditor who had two debtors: “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both” (7:41-42).
Couldn’t God forgive sin in like manner?
Also consider the parable of the prodigal son, found in Luke 15, who wasted his entire inheritance on riotous living. In time, he realized what a foolish mistake he had made and decided to return to his father. The result? “When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (vs. 20). His father immediately forgave him and even held a feast in his honor (vs. 23)!
Why couldn’t God forgive us like the father of the prodigal son?
Many believe that forgiveness of any sort is free. Since one cannot earn forgiveness, then it must be free, is the thinking. Yet this is not the case. While it is certainly true that it cannot be earned, forgiveness is not free, in the strictest sense.
Consider the phrase “Free as the air we breathe.” This is not entirely true. Although it is an involuntary action, it takes some amount of work to inhale the air that surrounds us. Even items that are advertised as “free” come at a price. Although you may not pay for it, someone, somewhere, in some way, did!
Forgiveness is the same. Though it is given to us as a free gift, it cost a tremendous price: the death of a God Being! Millions focus on the “free” aspect of forgiveness and miss the purpose of Jesus’ death.
When one sins, he breaks the Law of God (I John 3:4), which all of us have done, as the apostle Paul stated in the book of Romans: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (3:23). To sin is to come short of attaining God’s perfect character.
Because of sin, everyone owes God a debt—a price for that sin—which we saw earlier is the death penalty. The only way for us to personally satisfy it is to die—for all eternity! There is no other way for us to pay this penalty.
Thankfully, however, Jesus paid in full the debt for us. We need not suffer eternal death. Jesus met the ransom price for all human beings: “All come short of the glory of God, but they are justified for nothing by His grace through the ransom of Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24, Moffatt translation). His death freed us from our captor—Satan the devil, who, through sin, previously held power over death.
Yes, forgiveness is “free” in that we can do nothing to earn it—but it is not free in that Jesus needed to die to pay our debt. It is free to us, but not free to God.
Universe of Laws
The vast universe is governed by fixed physical laws, which have definite results, and if ignored exact a penalty. God designed it this way. Think of the law of gravity. If you break this law by jumping from a five-story building, the penalty will be broken bones, and likely death. What about the sun’s rays? If you are outside on a scorching-hot summer day without covering, will you not get sunburned? On the flip side, if you stand outside in temperatures of 50 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, will you not receive frostbite and eventually die? What about the orbit of the earth around the sun and orbit of the moon around the earth? If these were not fixed, life would not exist here.
God’s spiritual laws are no different. They are fixed and govern human beings spiritually. To produce peace, happiness and order, these laws must be kept. True happiness cannot be achieved any other way, no matter what our human nature may believe. Those who break God’s laws are “broken” spiritually.
God is love (I John 4:8, 16), and His law reveals how to love Him and our fellow human beings—how to show outgoing concern for others and treat them as you would like to be treated. “Jesus said unto him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).
In other words, God’s Law reveals how to love God and other human beings. Many ideas exist about what love is, but the Bible states that keeping the Law of God is love. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous” (I John 5:3).
When a person breaks God’s laws, he will eventually arrive at the final destination: death! It is automatic, like breaking the law of gravity. God does not intervene and sentence us to death. Death—the penalty of sin—is automatic!
Consider. If you board a plane from Britain to the United States, you will eventually arrive in the U.S. If you travel down the road of unhappiness, misery and despair, you will ultimately arrive at your final destination—death.
Someone Must Pay
Because of His perfect character and supreme wisdom, God has determined that all debt must be reconciled, one way or another. For us to be offered eternal life, someone had to “balance the books.” Someone had to pay the penalty. A Savior of mankind was needed!
Let’s remember the story of the creditor who forgave those who were indebted to him. Did someone pay for this debt? Yes! The creditor paid the price. To the debtors it was “free,” but it cost the creditor whatever amount of money they owed.
What about the parable of the prodigal son, who was forgiven by his father for throwing away his inheritance? Who paid the price? The father did. There was no longer an inheritance to sustain the son. That money was gone—wasted. Now the father had to provide for his son with other means.
It is the same with sin. It always exacts a price—and whoever forgives must pay that price. God the Father and Jesus were willing to pay our “sin debt” in full. They were willing to cancel our debt. God’s perfect character simply would not allow sin to just be “shrugged off.” He would not compromise His Law! Jesus needed to die in order for the Father’s mercy—and eternal life—to be available to us. Sin is too serious not to be punished. Jesus willingly took the sins of the world upon Himself and became our Savior. There was no other way.
Forgiveness for a Purpose
Do you comprehend what an incredible price was paid for you to be released from the penalty of your sins? The Word—He who was in the beginning with God, and very God Himself—divested Himself of all His glory and became flesh for the purpose of dying for your sins! Jesus suffered, was tempted, persecuted, despised, rejected by His creation (John 1:11) and crucified for you.
Jesus spent three days and three nights in the grave. A Being who had never tasted death—who was alive for all eternity—who had never been separated from the Father—was dead for 72 hours! This occurred so you and I would be freed from the penalty of eternal death.
The Father allowed His Son to be put to death for a grand purpose, for He “so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It took the death of Jesus for the death penalty to be lifted—so we would not perish for our sins, but would have the opportunity of receiving eternal life.
Therefore, you belong to Him! You were bought with a price. Have you fully surrendered yourself?
(Interestingly, John 3:16 is perhaps the most oft-quoted verse in the world of traditional Christianity, yet few recognize that Jesus’ death saved us from eternal death and opened the door to eternal life. In other words, human beings do not possess an immortal soul that goes to either “heaven” or “hell” upon death. As we saw earlier, the “dead know not anything.”)
Jesus is the only way to salvation. As He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). You must allow Him to live His life in you. Allow Him to help you overcome the pulls of the flesh—temptation to sin and break God’s perfect law of liberty (Jms. 1:25; 2:12).
What does God expect of you? “[Become] you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God is perfect, and expects us to aspire to the same standard. Though we cannot achieve it in this life, we are to strive for perfection each and every day, through Jesus living His sinless life in us.
Think of God’s mercy as an investment in our future growth. Through the death of Jesus, we may now receive God’s grace—unmerited pardon. Through Jesus’ resurrection—and His life in us (Rom. 5:10)—we may now overcome our sins and build God’s holy, righteous character, which is vital for entering the kingdom of God.
Unlike what most think, God’s mercy does not allow us to continue in sin (Rom. 6:1-2); after all, He commands us to be perfect. One cannot be perfect and break God’s laws! We are commanded to grow and overcome sin (Rev. 2:26)—not continue in it! Obeying God and overcoming sin produces righteous character.
Are you striving for perfection day in and day out? Are you growing spiritually, obeying God’s law more completely?
Looking forward to the Passover season, don’t allow yourself to forget the tremendous price that Jesus and the Father paid for us. Without their sacrifice, no one would have any hope of entering the kingdom of God. Mankind would have no Savior. We would all be traveling with a one-way ticket to eternal death.
Be sure to give thanks to our “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet. 1:3-5).