Question: "Why did Jesus have to die?"
Answer: Jesus died on the cross to bear sin’s punishment for believers. Many people have doubted Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, despite historical evidence. Muslims question, “Why would Allah require His prophet Isa to die?”
The Scripture explains that Jesus Christ died for our sins: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3b-4).
Scripture affirms that the sinless Jesus bled and died on the cross to pay the punishment for believing sinners. Let’s study the Scriptures, the Bible, to find out why Jesus’ death and resurrection provide the only entrance for sinners into paradise.
The punishment for sin is death
The Bible says the holy God created earth and man perfectly. But Adam and Eve fell to the temptation of Satan and disobeyed God. Ever since Adam’s sin, sin has infected the human race. Each person is guilty: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Sin is not just big things like murder or blasphemy but also includes lying, lusting, and stealing. Even the love of money or hatred of enemies is sin, according to the Bible. Good works cannot make up for wrongs against the holy God. Compared to His holiness, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6b).
Having sinned against God, we deserve His punishment. A judge who pardons lawbreakers isn’t a good judge. Likewise, God will not overlook sin. He pours out His righteous wrath against sinners (Romans 2:1-11). Unbelieving sinners pay for their sin by suffering eternal death in hell: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a).
The promise required an innocent death
Although God banished Adam and Eve from the garden and the tree of life, He gave them hope of salvation and paradise. He promised to send the woman’s offspring—Jesus—Who would conquer Satan (Genesis 3:15). Until then, men would sacrifice innocent lambs as a substitute for the punishment they deserved. Sacrificing an animal showed men’s humble acknowledgement that their sin required death and showed their faith in the future offspring and sacrifice from God—Jesus—Who would bear the believer’s penalty once and for all.
The prophets foretold Jesus’ death
From Adam to Jesus, God sent prophets to mankind, warning them of sin’s punishment and foretelling the coming Savior. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah described Him:
“Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:1-12).
The prophet compared the coming Savior to a lamb, slaughtered for the sins of others.
Centuries later, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy. Although Jesus is eternally one with God, God the Father sent His Son to earth (John 3:16). Jesus is the promised offspring of the woman (Genesis 3:15), born in human flesh to the virgin Mary. God witnessed that Jesus is His own Son (Matthew 17:5). On seeing Jesus, the prophet John the Baptist cried, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Taking the sin of the world as the sacrificial Lamb of God is why Jesus had to die. He came to take the punishment for sin—death.
Jesus prophesied His own death many times: “And taking the twelve, he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise’" (Luke 18:31-33).
God sacrificed Jesus for sin
During the life of Jesus, crowds thronged around Him for healing and teaching, but the religious leaders scorned Him. They arrested Him and charged Him with blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God (Luke 22:70). Mobs cried out, “Crucify Him!” Soldiers beat, mocked, and crucified Him.
On the cross, Jesus bore the punishment of sin. At His death, He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30b). Jesus finished paying the punishment for sin as the perfect Lamb of God.
As Isaiah prophesied, Jesus was crucified in between two criminals and was buried in a rich man’s tomb. But Jesus didn’t remain in the grave. As He prophesied, Jesus rose from the dead, proving His victory over sin and death.
Why did Jesus have to die?
Jesus died for believing sinners. We cannot reach paradise on our own merit. Remember, the holy God will not let sin go unpunished. If we bore our own sins, we would suffer judgment in the flames of hell. But God sacrificed Jesus as the believer’s perfect Substitute.
The Scripture says, “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified [made righteous/good] by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation [restored relationship].
“Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. . . . So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:6-12; 18-21).
Jesus died to provide the only way to eternal life. If God is showing your sin and need of Jesus, repent, turning from your sin and own way of trying to please God. You cannot fix yourself. Believing the Bible’s truth about Who Jesus is and what He did, trust in Jesus as Savior from sin and follow Him as the Lord of your life. He will lead and strengthen you through His Word, the Bible.