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WHY DID CHRIST HAVE TO DIE?

 

There are various aspects of the Christ event both to which the New Testament writers spoke, and later to which scholars assigned theological concepts.  This article will address some of these concepts, and will consider them in light of Scripture.  This is not an exhaustive investigation, but I hope that it will be a catalyst for fresh thinking on this subject.

 

There are those who have questioned the veracity of Christ's death being vicarious: that He died in place of us.  Vicarious sacrifice is a theological phrase that is not found in Scripture, but is a term of convenience to represent phrases in Scripture such as: "made a curse for us;" "bore our sins;" "has laid on Him the iniquity of us all;" "made to be sin for us;" "offered to bear the sins of many;" "wounded for our transgressions;" "has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;" "tasted death for every person."  All of these have been attributed to the work of Christ and His death on the cross.

 

In 1871 Horace Bushnell wrote "The Vicarious Sacrifice, Grounded in Principles of Universal Obligation."  Here he states that all vicarious conceptions signify "coming into our place;" "substituted in our stead;" "bearing our burdens;" "answering for us;" "standing in a kind of suffering sponsorship for the race."  But he, like other theologians, back-pedals by saying, "On the other hand, we are not to hold the Scripture term "vicarious sacrifice," as importing a literal substitution of places, by which Christ becomes a sinner for sinners, or penalty subjected to our deserved penalties.... He cannot become guilty for us.  Neither... can he be anyhow punishable in our place.... Christ... simply engages, at the expense of great suffering and even death itself, to bring us out of our sins..."

 

Fredrick W. Robertson cites John 11:49-53, where Caiaphas says, "one man should die for the people," as an example of this concept.

 

Many other scholars could be cited, but suffice it to say that the Christian consensus is that Christ died on the cross instead of us, so that we would not have to pay the penalty of our sins.  This general concept is stated in many different forms, but let this be representative, for our purposes here.  So the question is: Is this perception correct?

 

Much of the NT can be seen as an explanation of Christ as the fulfillment of OT prophecies (Gospel of Matthew; Lu. 24:26-27), as the goal to which the OT pointed.  We find this in the gospels, in Acts, and especially in the writings of Paul.  Christ is seen as the Last Adam, the Second Human (1 Cor. 15:45, 47), or as Paul Tillich states it, "the bearer of the New Being."  And in Rev. 21:5 we see,

 

"And the One (or: He [who is]) continuously sitting upon the throne said, 'Consider this!  I am presently making all things new (or: habitually creating everything [to be] new and fresh; progressively forming the whole anew)!'"

 

So what does the "the old" have to do with "the new"?  The answer is, "The new was birthed from the old."  The new plant grew from the Seed which fell into the ground and died.  Or, as Paul metaphorically stated in Rom. 11, wild olive branches were grafted in among the remaining branches of the cultivated olive tree.  The NT is composed of many quotes of the OT.  Thus, although there is now a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15) and a new covenant, these came via the old, which was a type and a shadow (Heb. 8:5; 10:1).

 

Thus, let us consider some of the figures and metaphors concerning the work of the Christ, as they relate to what was prefigured in the old.  What did Paul mean when in 1 Cor. 5:7 he said, "For also Christ, our Passover [= Passover lamb], was slaughtered in sacrifice."?  He proceeds in vs. 8 to admonish the community to symbolically keep that festival "in union with and in the midst of unleavened cakes (matzah) of genuineness (or: integrity and sincerity; that which has been tested by sunlight and found to be genuine or pure and unadulterated) as well as truth and unhidden reality."  He is drawing on the fact that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover, and on the fact that preceding that festival there was a cleansing from any leaven, in all houses, which in vs. 6-7 he compares to cleansing their community from the person who had committed sexual misconduct (vs. 1-2) and from their boastful pride (vs. 2 & 6).

 

But what was the significance of Christ being the Passover Lamb (cf. Rev. 5:6)?  In the original Passover, in Egypt, the lamb was slain and eaten in every home.  Its blood was put on the house entrance so that the final plague (the killing of all the firstborns in Egypt) would not come into their house and kill their firstborn.  We later find, in the Law, that all firstborns of Israel belong to Yahweh (Num. 3:13), in reference to this event in Egypt.  Ex. 4:22 states that Israel is Yahweh's son... His firstborn.

 

Strictly speaking, the Passover festival and its significance applied only to Israel.  Paul brings it to us, in the new creation/covenant, only by way of reference to keeping the called-out community clean from contaminants.  He uses it as an illustration – not as a doctrine of salvation.  This is the only stated analogy of Christ as the Passover for the church.  The subtle significance of applying this title to Christ, is that it was the Passover which brought the freedom to Israel.  Thus, as a Passover Lamb, He brought figurative emancipation to slaves of the religious/cultural/economic/societal/governmental systems.  But there is a difference here: this Lamb was not just taking the place of the firstborn.  Here the significance of the association is liberation, for although in Egypt the last plague was directed at the firstborn, the liberation came to the entire people: a figure of Christ bringing freedom to all humanity.  The lambs that were slain were a symbol.  They were not a substitution for the firstborns.  The blood identified the households that were to be liberated.  It was a sign of their separateness, their holiness unto Yahweh.  God was not angry at the firstborn of Israel, and planning to kill them unless they provided a sacrifice.  The whole episode was a type, an example of the freedom which Yahweh brought to Israel.  The commemoration in the centuries that followed was to remember the great deliverance which God brought to His people.

 

Let us now consider Heb. 9 and the figure of Christ as the sacrifice there.  This passage discusses a different festival, the Day of Atonement, which came in the fall of the year.  It was part of the Feast of Ingatherings, or, of Tabernacles.  It was a harvest celebration.  We see in Heb. 9:7 that it was only once each year that the high priest entered into the holy of holies, bearing the blood of the goat that was slain.  Now note that the Christ event, and His death on the cross fulfilled two separate Jewish festivals, two separate sacrifices: one as a Lamb; one as a Goat (Kid).  Here is the context of the second one in Heb. 9:

 

6.  But of these things, having been thus prepared (equipped; furnished; constructed), the priests, indeed, habitually entering into the first tabernacle [i.e., compartment], are completing (ending upon; fully finishing) the sacred service,

7.  yet into the second one [i.e., compartment], the chief priest alone (or: only), once a year, not apart from blood – which he is offering over (or: on behalf of) the ignorances (things pertaining to a lack of knowledge or experience) of himself and of the people –

8.  the set-apart Breath-effect (or: Holy Spirit) making this clearly visible: the Way of the set-apart places (or: of the separated ones; of the Holies) [was] not yet to have been manifested (caused to appear; brought to light) while the first tabernacle is having a standing –

9.  which is a parable, [pointing] unto the present season (or: the situation having been placed within the midst and which is now here) – in accord with which [parable] both gifts and sacrifices are continually being offered, [though] not being able (or: not having power) to perfect (complete; bring to the goal; finish; mature), in regard to conscience, those repeatedly doing the sacred service,

10.  [relying] only upon foods and drinks and various immersions (baptisms; ceremonial washings), as well as rites and products of the way then pointed out (or: applications of fairness and equity) pertaining to the flesh (or: = [the] flesh's [religious] ordinances and external regulations of justice; or: = the system of human works), continuously lying upon them [thus: pressing upon them; being imposed by them] until a fitting situation (or: season) of raising-up-through (or: thoroughly raising upright and making straight).

 

11.  So Christ ([the] Anointed One), after suddenly coming to be present at [our] side, [as] a Chief (or: Ruling; Ranking) Priest of the good things happening (or: of virtuous people being birthed; [with other MSS: pertaining to impending excellent things]) – through the midst of the greater and more perfect (more matured and complete) Tabernacle: one not made by hands, that is, not of this creation –

12.  entered in at once and once for all – yet not through blood from he-goats and calves, but through His own blood – into the set-apart ones (or: the holy places), at once finding in Himself an unbinding (a loosening for release and liberation; redemption) proper to, belonging to and having its origin in the Age (or: eonian, or, age-lasting liberation).

 

Note first of all that at the writing of this epistle the physical temple was yet standing, and vs. 9 points out that "both gifts and sacrifices are continually being offered."  During that period, the Jewish religion continued on – ignoring the Christ event – until the destruction came in AD 70.  Vs. 10 elaborates on aspects of that religion, which was to continue "until a fitting situation (or: season) of raising-up-through (or: thoroughly raising upright and making straight)."  The Christians realized that that situation and season had come, but the unbelieving Jews still had a veil over their hearts (2 Cor. 3:15) as they read Moses, so they continued on.

 

Vss. 11-12 go on to explain the situation referred to in vs. 10.  Look closely at what these say.  In vs. 12 the result of His sacrifice is presented: "at once finding in Himself an unbinding (a loosening for release and liberation; redemption) proper to, belonging to and having its origin in the Age (or: eonian, or, age-lasting liberation)."  Note that His fulfillment of the Day of Atonement brought an unbinding, a loosening for release, a liberation.  It was not a sacrifice "instead of," but rather a sacrifice "for."  Note also that He entered into the tabernacle (= temple) of the new creation, "through the midst of the greater and more perfect (more matured and complete) Tabernacle: one not made by hands, that is, not of this creation," and this was "through His own blood."

 

Paul has revealed to us that we are now the temple (tabernacle) of God, and so I translated vs. 12 to read that He entered "into the set-apart ones."  This corresponds to Heb. 10:

 

19.  Therefore, having freedom, openness and boldness of speech which comes from being citizens, brothers (= fellow members), with a view to the Entrance of the set-apart places (or: into the Way-into pertaining to the Holy Places or the separated ones), within and in union with the blood of Jesus,

20.  – a Way (Path; Road) which was done anew (or: which He innovates and makes new within) for us and in us, recently slain and yet living, through the veil that is His flesh (or: which way through the veil He did anew for us – that is, His flesh [= His body]: recently slain, and now living),

21.  as well as a Great Priest [enthroned] upon God's House –

22.  we can be continuously approaching with a true heart in fullness of faith (or: in faith's being brought to the full), THE HEARTS HAVING BEEN SPRINKLED from a consciousness of evil (or: a joint-knowledge full of labor and a bad condition), and then the body having been bathed in and by clean water.

 

Christ entered into us, and sprinkled our hearts with His blood.  This is symbolic of His imparting His Life into the core of our being.  This is why He died, to cleanse us and give us His Life – for the life is in the blood.  Even though the physical temple was not yet destroyed, it was no longer "having a standing" (9:8) in God's economy.  The shedding of blood was a figure of the giving of His life to us, which also caused "a sending-away (or: a causing to flow off; an abandoning or a divorce; or: forgiveness)" (9:22), and pertained to the establishing of the new covenant (compared to the sprinkling of scroll and the People, in vs. 19, which inaugurated the old covenant, which was the pattern, vs. 23).

 

Vs. 9:24 speaks to the heaven and atmosphere of our spirits:

"For Christ did not enter into set-apart places made by hands (= by humans) – representations (things formed after a pattern) of the true and real things [note: recall from John 4:23 that now all worship is in sprit and truth (the new reality)] – but rather into the atmosphere and heaven itself, now to be manifested (exhibited to view; caused to appear in clear light; made apparent) by the presence of God over us (or: in God's face and countenance [being] on our behalf)."

 

God's presence over us is the result of His sacrifice.  It brought something new, a new creation where God now dwells with and within us.  It was not a sacrifice "instead of us."  It was a sacrifice "on our behalf."

 

Now let us look at what Paul said, in relation to His death, in Rom. 6:

 

3.  Or are you continuing to be ignorant (are you remaining without experiential knowledge; do you continue to not know) that as many of we who are immersed (or: were at one point baptized) into Christ Jesus are immersed (or: were then baptized) into His death?

4.  We, then (or: consequently), are (or: were) buried together (entombed together with funeral rites) in Him (or: by Him; with Him), through the immersion (baptism), into the death, to the end that just as (or: in the same manner as) Christ was roused and raised forth from out of the midst of dead folks THROUGH (through means of) THE GLORY (the glorious manifestation of splendor which calls forth praise; the notion; the renown; the reputation) of The Father (or: which is the Father), thus also we can walk around (or: we also should likewise conduct ourselves and order our behavior) within newness of life (in union with life characterized by being new in kind and quality, and different from that which was former).

 

5.  For since (or: You see, if) we have been birthed (have become; have come to be) folks engrafted and produced together (or: planted and made to grow together; brought forth together; congenital) in, by and to the likeness (or: similar manner) of His death, certainly we shall also exist [in the likeness] of The Resurrection

     (pertaining to, having the character and quality of the resurrection; or: we shall also continuously be [with the likeness] which is the resurrection),

6.  while constantly knowing this by intimate experience, that our old, former humanity is crucified together (or: was simultaneously and jointly impaled and put to death on an execution stake) with [Him], to the end that the body of the Sin (the body of failure; the body that pertains to the deviation which resulted in missing the target) would (or: could) be rendered useless and inoperative (idled-down to be unproductive; made null, inactive and unemployed), for us to no longer continually be a slave to the Sin (or: perform as a slave in the failure, for the Sin, or by deviating and thus missing the goal),

7.  for you see, the one at some point dying (or: suffering death) has been rightwised away from the Sin

     (or: set in the Way pointed out, away from the Failure; turned in the right direction, away from the deviation and missing of the target; placed into equity and right relationships, away from error).

 

8.  Now since we died (or: if we die) together with Christ, we are continuously believing (trusting; relying) that we shall also live together in Him (by Him; for Him; to Him).

 

This is a co-death of all of humanity with Christ.  No substitution here: we died together with Christ!  We died in Him!  All are now a part of the Second Man (1 Cor. 15:47).

 

But what about the sin issue?  1 John 1:7 tells us "the blood of Jesus, His Son, keeps continually cleansing us (or: is progressively rendering us pure) from every sin (or: from all error, failure, deviation, mistake, and from every [successive] shot that is off target [when it occurs])."  This is His Life (the life is in the blood) bringing nourishment to our cells, and taking away all death within us.  The shedding of blood (Heb. 9:22) causes the flowing away of death and bondage, the divorce from our estranged condition.

 

In 1 Pet. 3 we read:

 

18.  because even Christ (or: considering that Christ also) died [other MSS: suffered], once for all, concerning and in relation to failures to hit the target (about errors and mistakes; around and encompassing sins [some MSS: our failures; other MSS: your failures]) – a Just One (a rightwised One; One in accord with the Way pointed out; a fair and equitable individual) over [the situation of] (or: for the sake of) unjust ones (capsized folks; those out of accord with the Way pointed out; unfair and inequitable people) – to the end that He at once may bring (or: can lead; would conduct) you folks [other MSS: us] to (or: toward) God.  [He], on the one hand, being put to death in flesh (= a physical body), yet on the other hand, being made alive in spirit (or: indeed, being put to death by flesh {or: = the estranged human condition}, yet, being engendered a living one by Breath-effect {or: [the] Spirit}).

Here, once again, His death was on our behalf, not instead of us.  Remember, "And you folks [who were] continuously existing being dead ones by (or: to; with; for; in) your stumblings aside (offences; wrong steps) and failures to hit the mark (or: mistakes; errors; times of falling short; sins)..." (Eph. 2:1).  We were already dead, in Adam.

 

I will end here.  There are many more Scriptures that could be examined in regard to this topic, but like I said in the beginning – this is meant to be a catalyst.

 

To God be the glory,

 

Jonathan

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