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Why did Jesus have to die?

Theology.

So I explained atonement; I explained how sin kills and how Jesus allowed sin to kill him, and yet he was resurrected and death had no effect on him.

Even so, people invariably ask the question, “Okay, but why did Jesus have to die like that? I mean, if God can do anything he wants, couldn’t he have invented a better way to save us than getting himself beat to death like that? Like, why couldn’t he have just forgiven everybody automatically, and nobody would have to die? He’s almighty, isn’t he?”

Yes, God is almighty. And yes, God can do whatever he wants. But apparently he didn’t think there was a better way to save us. If there had been, he would definitely have gone with it. Jesus, as you recall, didn’t want to die. Remember his prayer in the garden?

Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.

—Jesus, Mark 14.35-36 NLT

 

My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.

—Jesus, Matthew 26.39 NLT

In Mark’s version, Jesus stated that he knew the Father could do anything; in Matthew’s, Jesus stated that if possible, he’d rather not suffer. And why would the Father want him to suffer, if there was some other way? But there wasn’t.

Likewise, at any instant, Jesus could have stopped the clock and pulled out of the whole deal. But that didn’t happen either. “If I did, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?” (Mt 26.53-54) Jesus didn’t want things to go down this way. But, despite God’s infinite knowledge, despite God’s infinite wisdom, this was how things were. There was no better plan.

We can play armchair quarterback all we like, but as I explained in the article on atonement, we don’t actually know how or why this works. We only know that it does. In order for God’s plan of redemption to work, he needed to become human, take our sin upon himself, die, and kill it at the same time.

We would not have done it that way. We would have invented some way that was painless or less cruel. When we’re playing armchair quarterback, we imagine if we were God, or we were Jesus: What might we do to make taking care of sin easier for us?

And some of you more astute readers can easily see what the problem is. Our “better plans” are, by and large, based upon our own selfishness. God’s plan was based on his utter selflessness. He gave up everything to save us. He gave up his unlimited power, his unlimited nature, his majesty, his infinity, everything that makes us define him as God, in order to become human. And then, as a human, he gave up his dignity, his rights, his claims, everything that we humans cling to. The source of all life set down his own infinite life.

We would never go that far.

That’s why.