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Intro to Jesus #3: WHY DID JESUS DIE?

Updated: Feb 26




[Pro-Tip: This study is divided into two major sections – the human perspective and the heavenly perspective. Consider covering this material in at least two separate sessions.]



SUMMARY: Read this and skip the rest (if you want)


  • Jesus is the only central figure of a major world religion to make his own death essential to his message and mission.

  • The word "atonement" (literally "at-one-ment") captures the central purpose of the cross - removal of any roadblocks to reconciliation in our relationship with God and one another.

  • The reasons for Jesus' crucifixion can be seen from a historical perspective and a heavenly perspective.

  • From the historical perspective: Jesus offended the religious establishment so much that the religious leaders appealed to the Roman rulers to have him executed.

  • From the heavenly perspective, the reasons behind the death of Jesus can be addressed in four themes:

    • LOVE: By loving his executioners to death and rising again with a message of forgiveness and not revenge, Jesus shows us God's unconditional love.

    • FREEDOM: Jesus takes all our sin into his own body and puts it to death on the cross. The cross stands as a declaration of our freedom from the guilt and shame and fear of punishment associated with our sin.

    • KINGDOM: We belong together as fellow citizens, soldiers, and ambassadors on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

    • GRACE: Jesus absorbs the entire religious system of his day into himself and puts it to death on the cross. He becomes the last sacrifice, the priest offering the sacrifice, and the temple where the sacrifice is made. Now everything good we do, we do because we want to, not because we have to, since gratitude is the only appropriate response to grace. The outside-in Old Covenant of law is now obsolete, and the inside-out New Covenant of grace is here.

  • On the cross Jesus cried "It is finished!" The old way of law has been replaced with the new way of love, and all our sin and shame have been dragged into the depths.

  • Whenever we see a cross or crucifix, we can be reminded that God loves us to death.



INTRODUCTION: THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS


At the centre of the Christian faith is the cross of Christ. For centuries Christians have painted crosses, worn crosses, and made the sign of the cross when praying. Some depictions of the cross are empty, reminding us that Jesus has moved on from there and risen from the grave, while others (called crucifixes) portray Jesus on the cross, reminding us of the sacrifice he made.


Why does the Christian faith hold the death of its founder as its central symbol?

Jesus is the only religious figure at the centre of a major world religion to have died intentionally, claiming that his sacrifice was key to his message and mission. He came to die. Jesus died in his early thirties, which is young compared to other religious figures. By comparison, when they died, Muhammad was sixty, Socrates was seventy, Plato and Buddha were both more than eighty, and Moses was one hundred and twenty. But Jesus claimed he was on a mission, and that mission included dying for a very important reason.


Jesus repeatedly predicted his own death by crucifixion (e.g., Matthew 20:17-19; John 12:32-33) and saw it as crucial to his mission (the very word “crucial” comes from crux, the Latin word for cross). Once, while teaching his disciples about servant leadership, Jesus uses his own life as an example, saying:


For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ~ JESUS (Mark 10:45)

Jesus claimed he had come to, among other things, give his life to set people free. Jesus saw his own death, not just as what would happen at the end of his life, but the central theme of his life.


At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples to keep his death in the middle of their memory. The apostle Paul gives us our earliest record of Christ’s words at the Last Supper:


For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. ~ The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Why do Christians commemorate the death of Jesus through the tradition of Communion (or The Lord’s Supper or Mass)? Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is a ministry of reminding. The crucifixion of Christ is the only event of his life that Jesus says we should regularly remember through story, teaching, song, and symbol. In this way, we are meant to “proclaim the Lord’s death” until he returns.

We participate in Communion as a ministry of reminding.

Apparently, Jesus thinks that his death is the most important thing about his life that we should know, remember, understand, and apply to our lives.


Let’s address the question “Why did Jesus die?” from two perspectives – below and above.




The Human Perspective

(The View from Below)



1. Forgiveness, Outside the System. The Jesus movement grew quickly during his ministry years. People loved Jesus, especially those who didn’t fit into the religious system of their day. What wasn’t to like about Jesus? He was an engaging teacher, healed the sick, blessed people who were often marginalized (like women, children, and the poor), worked miracles like turning water into wine and multiplying loaves and fishes to feed the crowds, and even walked on water a time or two. Even better, Jesus was proclaiming God’s love for everyone and God’s forgiveness for everything everyone had ever done wrong. Christ Offered Forgiveness For Everyone Everywhere – COFFEE!


[Matthew 9:2-3; Mark 15:39; Luke 7:36-50]


Christ Offered Forgiveness For Everyone Everywhere – COFFEE!

2. Religious Resistance. Jesus’s “COFFEE” ministry created a problem for the stewards of the religious system. At that time, in the Jewish religion (like in most ancient religions), people received God’s (or the gods’) favour and forgiveness through making animal sacrifices, purchased at the Temple in Jerusalem. Religion was big business (has anything changed?). And Jesus was putting religion out of a job. Jesus’ direct-to-Source spirituality threatened their power, their position, and their theology. More than that, the religious leaders had a genuine concern that some crazy person (or worse, a false prophet or messenger from Satan himself) might be deceiving their people. Hadn’t God, through Moses, instituted the Jewish sacrificial system as a means to providing purification for sins? (Check out the Bible book of Leviticus.) Jesus also seemed to be teaching and modelling a life that did not follow other rules of the Law of Moses (called the Torah) as well as the religious traditions that went along with them (called the Oral Torah or the Tradition of the Elders). It would take a clear miracle-backed messenger from God to upend and overturn something that God himself had ordained in the first place, right? The religious leaders – called Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes (or teachers of the law) – began to investigate Jesus thoroughly, often challenging him in public to try to discredit him and his growing popularity.


[Matthew 9:13, 34; 12:1-14; 16:1-4; 19:3-8; 22:15-46; Mark 7:1-19; 12:13-27; Luke 20:1-26]


3. Jesus Goes Too Far. Near the end of his life, Jesus made a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem during the sacred season of Passover. When the crowds got word of his coming, they gathered en masse to celebrate his arrival, waving palm branches and shouting his praise. If Jesus was really the Messiah, so the religious leaders thought, he would ride in on a war horse, confront the Romans, and bless the Temple. Instead, Jesus rode in on a donkey, preached forgiveness for everyone, including the Romans, and turned the tables in the Temple. The religious leaders concluded that Jesus was a false Messiah and therefore public enemy No. 1. If his movement was large and orthodox, they would bless it. If his movement was heretical yet small, they would ignore it. But – well – you know.


[Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19:28-48]


Jesus' judgement of the Temple system was an enacted prophecy. It was time for the sacrificial system to end. Jesus was becoming the last sacrifice, the priest who offers the sacrifice, and the new temple itself in his own body. Now the Church, the "Body of Christ" fulfills these roles.


4. Christ Crucified. In the end, the religious leaders convinced the Roman government to have Jesus crucified. They did this by highlighting Jesus’ claims to be a king of an alternative kingdom, making him a potential threat to Rome. So, religion and politics conspired together to kill Christ. This shouldn’t surprise us: whenever religion and politics partner together, the results are often deadly.


[Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19]


Pontius Pilate gave in to religious pressure to have Christ crucified. Religion and politics are a deadly combination.


5. The Resurrection. When Jesus rose from the dead, it demonstrated that people had been wrong in rejecting Jesus as a false Messiah. The resurrection also confirmed that God’s heart toward everyone was filled with love and compassion. If we rejected and murdered God’s Chosen One, and then that Chosen One came back to life, we might expect the resurrection to be bad news for us. If Jesus had been a pagan deity, we would anticipate him wanting revenge for us rejecting, torturing, and murdering him. We would cringe in fear of the resurrected Jesus pouring out his wrath, zapping us with lightning from his eyes, or raining down thunderbolts from heaven upon us. But instead, the risen Jesus continues to preach forgiveness, mercy, and grace. And if we receive this amazing grace, we can become a people who offer grace to others and turn enemies into friends.


[Luke 24:46-47; Romans 15:7; Ephesians 2:11-22; 4:32; Colossians 2:13-15; 3:12-13]


"He is risen? We're doomed!" (A more appropriate Easter greeting if Jesus was not all about forgiveness.)

6. A Message Worth Spreading. Jesus taught that God has given him all authority and so we can trust that his message of grace, mercy, and peace is God’s final word to the world. No other prophet or messenger could ever come to overrule this message of God’s love. Then Jesus encouraged his disciples to spread the word and to make more disciples. “Disciple” means an apprentice – someone who is learning as they go. And you are invited by Jesus, and by us, to join the Jesus Movement.


[Matthew 28:18-20]


This is amazingly Good News planted right in the middle of history. God loves us, forgives us, and wants to be friends with us. But Jesus of Nazareth was more than the greatest historical figure who ever lived. Jesus also exists above and beyond human history…







The Heavenly Perspective (The View from Above)



God’s Plan. Jesus claimed that his own death was at the centre of God’s plan and purpose in sending Jesus into this world. God intended to use the death of Jesus to accomplish something life-giving and world-changing. Jesus knew he was born to die. Amazingly, by crucifying Christ, the religious and political leaders helped fulfill what was God’s plan all along. By dying and forgiving his executioners, Jesus would plant a flag in the middle of history declaring that God, once and for all, was forgiving everyone everywhere for everything all at once. Everything we have ever done or will ever do wrong, God was forgiving in this moment in history. God was giving humankind a fresh start through the cross of Christ. This was always God’s plan.


[Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; 10:45; Luke 23:34; John 10:11-18;

Acts 2:22-24; 1 Timothy 1:15-16; 1 Peter 1:18-20]


You’re just making that up. In the sixteenth century, English-speaking theologians made up a word to summarize what Jesus accomplished on the cross:


ATONEMENT.


Atonement literally means “at-one-ment”, based on the Bible’s theme of reconciliation.


The Hebrew word behind Atonement is kippur, as in the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). Kippur means to cover over, wash away, cleanse, or purify. Atonement, then, is about clearing away whatever is getting in the way of our relationship with God. (The fancy, nerdy, theological English word for this is “expiation” – the wiping away of any impurity.)


A variation of kippur refers to the “Mercy Seat” or “atonement cover”: the lid of the Ark of the Covenant (Greek, hilasterion). The ancient Hebrews believed that this was a kind of earthly throne of God’s Spirit, where they would put blood from a sacrifice and he would come to offer forgiveness. (No doubt they were grateful that God’s throne was called the Mercy Seat and not the Judgement Seat or the Punishment Seat or the Condemnation Seat.)


[1 Samuel 4:4; Hebrews 9:5]


The lid of the Ark of the Covenant was called the Atonement Cover or Mercy Seat, where God comes to accept a sacrifice and offer mercy. Jesus is our Mercy Seat.


Now Hear This! The Bible proclaims this Gospel: JESUS is our atonement. JESUS is our expiation. JESUS wipes away whatever comes between us and God. JESUS is our Mercy Seat. JESUS is our way to experience at-one-ment with God and one another. What Good News!


God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 3:25, NIV)

Let’s read this same Bible verse (Romans 3:25) in a few different translations, to help it sink in:


  • God set forth Christ as an expiation, through faith, by his blood. (NAB)

  • God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. (NET)

  • Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood. (CEB)

  • God showed that Christ is the throne of mercy where God’s approval is given through faith in Christ’s blood. (GWT)

  • Jesus’ God-given destiny was to be the sacrifice to take away sins, and now he is our mercy seat because of his death on the cross. We come to him for mercy, for God has made a provision for us to be forgiven by faith in the sacred blood of Jesus. (TPT)

[Also see Hebrews 2:17; 9:26-28]



FOUR THEMES


From Jesus’ own words, as well as the writings of his earliest followers, let’s find out why Jesus believed he was born to die. We’ll approach this topic according to the same four themes we discovered in Jesus’ teaching (see our last post). And, since Jesus is our atonement, we can also note those things that hinder our relationship with God that Jesus covers over, clears away, wipes clean, removes.


1. LOVE (Wiping away our fear)

2. FREEDOM (Wiping away our sin and shame)

3. KINGDOM (Wiping away our aloneness and meaninglessness)

4. GRACE (Wiping away religion)






1. LOVE




A. Wiping Away Our Fear. The Bible sometimes uses the word “fear” to mean awe and reverence. In that sense, being a “God-fearing” person is a good thing. But there is a kind of fear that ruins our relationship with God. It keeps us away from God, running from God, hiding from God, like Adam an Eve hiding in the bushes. This is fear of God’s anger, his wrath, his punishment. By assuring us of God’s sacrificial love through the cross – that God would choose to die for his enemies rather than kill them – Jesus clears away our fear and pulls us close to the God who is love.


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. ~The apostle John (1 John 4:18)

The Greek verb for "drives out" in the above verse is the same verb used to refer to exorcisms - "casting out" demons. When we get a clear vision of God's love for us through Jesus, that love will perform an exorcism of our fear!


[Romans 8:15; Colossians 1:21-22; 2 Timothy 1:7; Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 4:18]



B. Seeing is Believing. Jesus believed his own death would be the clearest possible demonstration of God’s unconditional love for us. Think of it: we did our worst to Jesus – reject him, abuse him, torture him, and murder him – and he died forgiving us and rose again to continue to proclaim that same forgiveness, mercy, and unconditional love. When we look at the cross of Christ, we can know that there is nothing we can do to make God stop loving us. When we ponder the crucifixion, we are really seeing two things:

i. Our wrath and judgement and rejection and violence and sin being poured into Christ. The Jews and Romans are stand-ins for all humanity. Every jeering taunt, every lash of the whip, every nail hammered in – it all represents us doing our worst to God. See us, hammering our sin into Jesus. He will take it all, and give us his righteousness in return.

ii. God’s love, compassion, righteousness, and forgiveness pouring out of Christ into us, even as Jesus’ blood poured out, because God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. When you picture the cross, picture God with his outstretched arms. God is love, and he loves us to death.


[Luke 23:34; 24:47; John 3:16; 12:45; 15:13; 18:37; Romans 5:6-11; 8:31-39;

2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 John 3:16; 4:9-10]


Ultimately, we don't blame the Jews or the Romans for the crucifixion of Christ. They represent us all.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 5:8)


C. Setting an Example. Jesus not only shows us God’s love, he shows us how to love. Jesus taught that his followers should be ready to lay their lives down for others, just as Jesus would lay his life down for them. And over the past two thousand years, Jesus has inspired countless acts of selfless, sacrificial serving of others.


[Luke 9:21-25; John 12:23-26; 13:34-35; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25; Hebrews 12:1-2; 1 Peter 2:21-23]


A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you. ~ JESUS (John 13:34)
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ~ The apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:21)


D. Making it Personal. Do you believe God loves you? Not just that God loves people in general, but that God loves YOU specifically, personally, and intimately? It's true. The cross proves it. We won't be able to follow Christ's "new command" to love others like Christ has loved us until we accept how much he really has and does love us. God knows the best and the worst of you, and he refuses to let your failure define you. God loves all of you. The apostle Paul had failed God terribly, even to the point of persecuting Christians, until he became one. These words must have meant so much to him, when he finally accepted God's love as personal...


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ~ The apostle Paul (Galatians 2:20)






2. FREEDOM




A. Wiping away sin and shame. As we learned in our previous study, one of the main Greek words used in the Bible for “sin” is hamartia, which means to be separated (literally not-togetherness). Sin, and the shame that accompanies it, is a force that is always working to separate us from God, from others, and from our true selves. Sin is dis-integrating, always pulling us apart. Through his death, Jesus absorbs our sin and drags it into the grave.


[John 1:29; Romans 5; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:3-4; Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 3:18]


For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. ~ The apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:18)


B. Freedom from slavery. Jesus saw his death as a price that he would pay for our freedom – a “ransom”. Sin, shame, and the secrecy we use to avoid shame, is prison. Confession, repentence, and forgiveness is freedom. Jesus didn’t emphasize who the ransom was paid to – the Devil? God? The Universe? We are not meant to push the analogy beyond its one key point: Jesus was willing to do whatever it takes to set us free from our own cycles of sin and shame so we can become the liberated and loving people we were created to be.


[Genesis 1:26-28; Mark 10:45; John 8:34-36; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:6-7; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; Titus 2:11-14; Hebrews 9:15]


Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. ~ JESUS (John 8:34)
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. ~ JESUS (Mark 10:45)

C. Freedom as Healing. Freedom and healing go hand in hand in biblical writing (e.g., Luke 13:10-17). To be healed is to be freed from our sickness and suffering. Forgiveness heals our souls and frees us from our disgrace (literally, our feeling of dis-grace). Jesus somehow takes our sin into himself on the cross and it dies there with him. We now stand forgiven for everything wrong we have done or will ever do. That's right, even our future sins are already forgiven - after all, all of our sins were in the future for Jesus on the cross. And if that only makes you think you've discovered a loophole for sin, then you haven't yet let the message of God's love sink in to heal your heart.


Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. ~ JESUS (John 5:24)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. ~ The apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:24)

Notice the present tense of the above verses. When we trust Christ, we are made new. We are already healed. We have already begun our eternal life. We have already crossed over into our new lives. Our physical death will be a minor transition. We have already begun our eternity with God!


[John 5:24; Romans 3:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21;

1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 1:7]



D. Freedom from Judgement. There is a story in the Hebrew Bible about a time when God punished the Israelites for their disobedience by sending poisonous snakes to bite them. God was their Judge, teaching Israel that their sin was a serious matter. But God was also their Rescuer. God had Moses make a bronze serpent on a pole so that, whenever someone who was dying would merely look at the bronze serpent in faith, they would be healed. Now here’s the thing: Jesus taught that this is a picture of his own crucifixion. When we look to Jesus in faith, we find healing from our own sin and we are released from God’s punishment for that sin. God is a just judge, and sin deserves punishment. God’s wrath is a real problem. The Good News is that, since Jesus takes away our sin and heals our souls, God’s wrath no longer rests upon us. God clicks-drags-and-drops our future Judgement Day into our present and declares us not-guilty right here and right now. He declares us righteous because he makes us righteous. Stamped-it-no-erasies!


On this point, also see 1-A above about wiping away our fear.


Note: Some Christians hold to an atonement theory called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. This theory promotes the idea that God's punishment for our sin (Penal) was directed away from us and instead toward Jesus on the cross (Substitutionary) in order to save us from God's wrath (Atonement). When Jesus took our sin into himself, he also took God's wrath against that sin upon himself. This means that when we look at the suffering of Jesus on the cross, we should see not only our sin and God's love, but also God’s angry judgement being poured out onto Jesus.


To be clear, all Christians agree that Jesus saves us from God's judgement or wrath. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is a theory about how Jesus saves us from God's wrath. It is not the Gospel, but a theory about how the Gospel works. And despite its popularity among Protestant Christians, the theory has some significant weaknesses.


This atonement theory separates the Father and Son too much, making the Father act out his wrath upon the Son, rather than focus on the Father showing his love through the Son. And it is hard to find support for this idea in Scripture, despite its popularity since the Protestant Reformation. The Bible never speaks of God pouring his wrath onto Jesus (or onto the bronze serpent, for that matter), but rather emphasizes the actual healing, sin-removing work of the cross, which in turn removes God’s wrath. God's wrath is directed toward sin, and once we are healed from our sin, we are saved from God's wrath.


When we envision the atonement, we should not picture God the Father separate from Christ, hovering above Christ, pouring out his wrath onto Christ. We should invision God within Christ pouring out his love to us.


Again for clarity, while all Christians believe Christ has taken away God's wrath, some believe he took away God's wrath by taking God's wrath onto himself. Other Christians believe Christ removed God's wrath by healing our hearts and making us new creations, without the need to pour out his punishment upon Christ. Either way, we all agree on the end result - we are free from God's judgement because of the cross of Christ.


“We need to ponder this: The trigger of the flamethrower of God’s omnipotent fury is about to be pulled, and as it’s pulled Christ steps between us and the flamethrower and he absorbs every bit of it on himself and he dies because of it.” ~ John Piper (Ask Pastor John Podcast, Episode 272 – The Bible’s Most Important Verse)

[John 3:14-15 (Numbers 21:4-9), 36; 5:24; Romans 1:18; 2:5-8; 3:23-24; 5:1-11; 8:1-4; Galatians 3:13; Colossians 2:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9]


God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. ~ The apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:19)
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. ~ JESUS (John 3:14-15)
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. ~ The apostle Paul (Colossians 2:13-14)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ~ The apostle Paul (Romans 8:1)

"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” ~ JESUS (John 3:14-15)


E. The New Passover. The Bible tells the story of the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt. God rescued them from their bondage through an event called the Passover, when he punished the Egyptians but “passed over” the Jewish homes. The Passover Lamb was a central symbol for this epic emancipation. Every year since, Jews celebrate the Passover Seder, a meal to commemorate their freedom. At his last supper with the disciples, Jesus reconfigured the symbols of the Passover meal around himself. He was the new Passover Lamb, opening the doors to freedom through his sacrifice.


[Matthew 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; 1 Corinthians 5:7; 11:23-26]


Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. ~ The apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7)

At the Last Supper Jesus gives new meaning to the bread and the cup. There is no Passover Lamb mentioned as part of the meal, because Jesus is the new Passover Lamb.





3. KINGDOM




A. Wiping away aloneness and meaninglessness. One of the greatest epidemics of our time (and all time) is the epidemic of isolation, loneliness, purposelessness, and meaninglessness. Many of us sense our own unfulfilled purpose - we sense that are called to do something important, but we don't know what that is or how to do it. This existential ache can leave many of us isolated in our own questioning and confusion. We feel our disconnection and dislocation. The fact is, humans will not have a sense of our own thriving unless and until we are connected to a greater Reality beyond ourselves. Otherwise, we are like headphones being used as a paper weight. The death of Jesus inaugurates the very thing our souls are longing for – the Kingdom of Heaven coming to Earth. And we are invited into this new experience of intimacy, connection, belonging, and purpose as citizens of heaven here and now. We can wake up every morning knowing that we are not alone, but part of something larger than ourselves. And our purpose becomes clear: our purpose every day is to experience, express, and extend the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.


[Genesis 1:26-28; Matthew 6:10; Luke 16:16; John 12:32-33; Ephesians 2:11-22; Revelation 22:5]


The law and the prophets were in force until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is urged to enter it. ~ JESUS (Luke 16:16)

What is the meaning of life? Our purpose every day is to experience, express, and extend the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.

B. King Jesus. The crucifixion of Christ is the coronation of our King and the inauguration of his kingdom on earth. It was and is a kingdom of love, service, and self-sacrifice. We know from our last study that Jesus framed his Good News message in terms of God’s kingdom coming to earth. Then, at his crucifixion, what the Romans do ironically to mock Jesus, the biblical writers intend us to see as symbolic of what is actually happening. They give Jesus a purple robe (the colour of royalty), a mock scepter, and a crown of thorns. Then Pilate orders a sign to be placed above Jesus on the cross, declaring him to be “KING OF THE JEWS”. During his life, Jesus spoke about one day being “lifted up” or exalted, a verb that has double meaning – his crucifixion and ascension to his throne.


[Matthew 27:27-37; Mark 15:16-26; John 12:32; 19:1-19]


And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. ~ JESUS (John 12:32)

The Roman soldiers give Jesus a purple robe (the colour of royalty), a mock scepter, and a crown of thorns. His crucifixion will be his coronation.


C. Citizens, Soldiers, Ambassadors. Since Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, we now have new roles to play in our lives, as kingdom citizens, soldiers, and ambassadors. As citizens of the Jesus Nation, we work together to promote living loving lives among our fellow believers. As soldiers of the Jesus Nation we also fight against those ideas, thoughts, and misinformation that make it difficult for people to receive the message of the Gospel. And as ambassadors of the Jesus Nation, we carry God’s Good News message to other people who are not yet citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.


[Ephesians 2:19; 2 Corinthians 5:17-20; 10:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:3-4]

You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household. ~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:19)
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every arrogant obstacle that raises itself against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~ The apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Christ-followers have dual citizenship.


D. Defeating the Devil. The Devil hates God, but he cannot hurt God. At least, not directly. So Satan pours all his energies into harming us, people made in God’s image who God loves dearly. Satan’s primary tactic is deception, making us think God is against us rather than for us. By clearing away our fear of God, our sin and shame, and our loss of purpose, Jesus defeats the enemy propaganda of the Devil. This also means that the prince of this world, Satan, was ultimately defeated by this one powerful act of self-sacrificial love.


[Genesis 3:1-4; John 8:44; 10:10-11; 12:23-33; Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8]


The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. ~ The apostle John (1 John 3:8)

Satan hates God, but he can't hurt God. So he attacks us, God's image on earth (Ephesians 6:16).


E. Why Does Evil Persist? The idea of Jesus inaugurating and establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth raises an obvious question – why is there still so much wrong with the world? This is a good question, and here is a good answer – while Jesus has begun the kingdom of God on Earth, Jesus has not yet abolished all other kingdoms. This is a time of overlap. There are personal kingdoms, political kingdoms, financial kingdoms, and cultural kingdoms that work against the will and way of Jesus. Since Satan’s mission was to prevent the kingdom of God coming to earth, he has already lost that major battle and has been officially defeated. But he and his army are still at work to bend people and politics and business and culture toward his will and his way. We have a battle yet to fight.


[2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:11-17; Colossians 2:15; James 4:7]


Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. ~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 6:11-17)







4. GRACE




A. Wiping away Religion. Grace means that everything religion has ever tried but failed to accomplish, God has done for us and applied to us as a gift. (Read that sentence again and let it sink in.) To avoid confusion, it's worth noting that people can use the word “religion” positively and negatively. Our English word comes from the Latin word religare, a combination of re (to return, to repeat) and ligare (to tie, to bind - it's where our English word "ligament" comes from). Positively, then, religion can mean a refastening of the self to something important, a kind of reconnecting with God. Negatively, and quite literally, religion can mean “return to bondage”. Once Jesus ushers in the way of grace, religion becomes redundant. In this sense of the word, we can think of religion as any system of belief, behavior, and belonging that people use to achieve rather than receive salvation. Religious thinking puts heavy burdens of performance-based-approval on our psyches. But Jesus lifts away the burden of religion, nailing it to the cross.


[Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46; Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:6-13]


They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. ~ JESUS (Matthew 23:4)
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)

B. The New Covenant. A “covenant” is a way of being in relationship, like a marriage covenant. It’s like a contract, but less business-y and more relationship-y. In ancient times, a covenant was often established with a sacrifice through a “cutting of a covenant” ceremony (e.g., Genesis 15). Jesus told his disciples that his death would be the sacrifice that begins a New Covenant between God and humanity. In a sense, this is the central theme of how Jesus and the early Church understood the crucifixion. We can call this “New Covenant Atonement” and everything else the cross of Christ accomplishes flows out of this fundamental reality.


[Matthew 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 8:13]


“This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” ~ JESUS (1 Corinthians 11:25)

C. The Last Sacrifice. A key change brought about by this New Covenant would be the end of ritual sacrifice as a way of atoning for sin. Once the Son of God sheds his own blood for the sin of the world, there’s no need to top that up by killing a goat. The sacrificial system, practiced by Jews and most religions in the world at that time, was over. Jesus predicted that God would soon destroy the Jerusalem Temple and unnecessary sacrifices would come to an end (which happened in 70 AD). Now Christ-followers offer our lives of love as “living sacrifices” of praise to God.


[Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:26-28; 10:10-18; 13:15-16]


Where sins have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10:17-18)

For those who followed Jesus, he became the last sacrifice.


D. Out of a Job. Jesus absorbed the entire religious system of his day into his own life and ended it on the cross. Jesus was not only the last sacrifice, he played the role of the high priest who offered his own life as the sacrifice, and his body was the temple where the sacrifice was made. So, under the New Covenant, priests no longer mediate between the people and God. Jesus was our once-and-for-all high priest who then makes us all priests to one another. As for the temple and other holy places, now people become the Temple of God, individually and collectively. The most sacred space on the planet it the space between you and me when we love one another like Jesus loves us. Ya, religion really is out of a job.


[Exodus 19:5-6; John 2:18-22; 10:14-18; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; Ephesians 2:21-22; 5:2; Hebrews 2:17; 7:26-27; 1 Peter 2:9; Revelation 21:22]



E. Love Over Law. The Old Covenant Law of Moses was given to Israel to help them live holy lives, separated from the rest of the world. Now Christ was building a New Covenant Community of Jews and Gentiles together, so the Law had to be done away with. On the cross, Jesus not only put our sins to death, he put the Old Covenant Law to death. Instead, Jesus taught Jews and Gentiles alike how to live by the way of love.


[2 Corinthians 3; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Ephesians 2:13-15]


For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace. ~ The apostle Paul (Ephesians 2:14-15)

F. A New Heart. The Old Covenant way of Law was necessary for hard-hearted, stiff-necked, strong-willed people. Clear rules and clear incentives (rewards and punishments) for keeping the rules were important. But the New Covenant promises a change of heart. God is healing us, changing us, making us better versions of ourselves, softening our hearts to make a home for the Holy Spirit to live within each of us.


[Matthew 19:8; Jeremiah 17:9-10; 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Hebrews 10:14-18]


“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” ~ The prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. ~ The prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:26-27)


G. The Holy Spirit. Under the Old Covenant, the Holy Spirit was God’s personal empowering presence that was normally only given to special spiritual leaders, like Israel’s kings and prophets. Under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit is made available to all of us. The same Spirit who hovered over the waters at creation, inspired Scripture, and empowered the early Church is given to each of us as a gift when we believe.


[Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29; Acts 1:8; 2:16-18; Romans 8; Ephesians 5:18]


Receive the Holy Spirit. ~ JESUS (John 20:22)

The Old Covenant was outside-in, led by Law. The New Covenant is inside-out, led by the Spirit.

H. A Covenant of Closeness. In its essence, the New Covenant is a Covenant of Closeness. Under the Old Covenant, the religious system of sacrifices, priests, rules, and rituals acted as the mediator (or go-between, or connector) between God and people. Holy men in holy places performing holy rituals in holy spaces were how the average believer got a little closer to God. Through the New Covenant God cuts through all of that to be close to us. The Bible records the most radical act of irreligious vandalism ever - and it is done by God himself. In the centre of the Jerusalem Temple was a separated space called The Holy of Holies where it was believed the pure presence of God dwelt in a special way, unlike anywhere else on the planet. No one could go into that area except the high priest once a year on the Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the Temple by a huge dividing curtain or veil. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world was torn in two, right down the middle, from top to bottom. God was declaring that he refused to be contained within any one religious system. This was God's own "coming out" party. God was saying, "That's it. I've had enough of the separation caused by sin and by religion. Today I have taken care of both. Now let's be close."


[Matthew 27:50-51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45; Hebrews 10:19-20]


And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. ~ The apostle Matthew (Matthew 27:50-51)


Therefor, brothers and sisters, we enter the holy place boldy by the blood of Jesus, who inaugurated a new and living way for us to pass through the curtain, which is his flesh. (Hebrews 10:19-20)



SUMMING IT UP


All four meanings of Christ’s death – Love (overcoming fear), Freedom (through forgiveness), Kingdom (new purpose and identity), and Grace (the end of religion) – can be seen in this one statement of praise from the book of Revelation:


To him who LOVES US and has FREED US FROM OUR SINS by his blood, and has made us to be a KINGDOM and PRIESTS — to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. ~ The apostle John (Revelation 1:5-6)

Amen!


We can summarize our answer to the question "Why did Jesus die?" this way: Jesus died on the cross to show us God's love, set us free from sin, set up his kingdom, and shut down religion.


Put slightly differently, here is The Gospel in Thirty Words. (Really. Count 'em!)...

The Gospel in Thirty Words.

We have looked at who Jesus is, what Jesus taught, and why Jesus died. In our next and final study we’ll put it all together and talk about how we can respond to this Good News today.



CONCLUSION: IT IS FINISHED!


One of the last things Jesus cried from the cross before he died is translated "It is finished!" The Greek word behind this sentence is one word, tetelestai. It comes from the word telos, meaning to reach the goal, to arrive at your destination, to have fully and thoroughly completed an objective. In ancient times, when someone made their final payment on a debt, across the promissory note or deed to the land, they would write: TETELESTAI. Today we might write: PAID IN FULL!


It is finished!

On the cross, Christ was stamping in bloodred letters “PAID IN FULL” across the demands of the religious system. And the verb tense is not just past but perfect, meaning an action that has been accomplished and continues to have effect. The price has been paid and we continue to be spiritually debt-free. Praise God!


Everything we have read about in this study is true. It all happened on the cross and Jesus cried out "IT IS COMPLETED!" just before he died. God has proven his love for you, and there is nothing you can do or fail to do that can change this. God has forgiven and cleansed you from every failure - past, present, and future. God has adopted you into his family and filled your life with purpose as a citizen, soldier, and ambassador of his kingdom. And God does this all for you as a gift of grace, period. I need this Good News message more than ever. How about you?


It is finished! ~ JESUS (John 19:30)



QUESTIONS FOR CONVERSATION


  1. Does anything in this study stand out as something new to you?

  2. How would you answer the question "Why did Jesus die?" in your own words?

  3. What do you find most exciting about the topic of this study?

  4. What questions still remain for you?

  5. Heart check: How do you feel toward Jesus now, the more you learn about him? How do you think Jesus feels toward you?




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