Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Conclusions

In this series on the death of Jesus, I have presented four different perspectives on why Jesus had to die: Roman, Jewish, Jesus’, and Early Christian. I believe that each of these points of view has merit, and that we cannot fully understand the necessity of Jesus’ death without taking them all into account.

But many people today disagree. They prefer to accept one perspective as true, and reduce or deny other perspectives. You can see this, for example, in the letters to the editor in respone to TIME Magazine’s cover story “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” One of these letters said:

Jesus stood up to the injustices of the world and was crushed in the process. That is happening all over the world today, and not only to Christians. People of every religion who see wrongs and try to right them lose their lives. That is what the Christian spirit is all about. LOUIS OSTROM Madison, Wis.


Now it’s certainly true that when people stand up to injustice, as Mr. Ostrom observes, they are often crushed in the process. Remember, for example, the brave soul faced down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He, as it turns out, wasn’t killed for his effort. But other students who protested against the Chinese government were put to death because they stood against oppression. Yet Ostrom’s explanation of Jesus’ death, however true, doesn’t go nearly far enough, either historically or theologically.

A pastor from New York City got the historical point in his letter to TIME:

It is inappropriate to look for explanations of Jesus’ death that blame God. God is not the one who killed him but the one who raised him from the dead. Jesus died because those in power ordered him killed. They could not tolerate someone who challenged the status quo as forcefully and thoroughly as Jesus was capable of doing. (THE REV.) DOUGLAS P. CUNNINGHAM New York City


Rev. Cunningham is also correct, to a point. Jesus did die because he challenged the status quo, and therefore people in power ordered him killed. But the Reverend mistakenly believes that this historical explanation tells the whole story. It doesn’t. At least it doesn’t if we take seriously the perspective of Jesus and early Christians. It’s not “inappropriate” to look for theological explanations that “blame” God (though the word “blame” misses the biblical nuance), even though we can accept historical explanations that blame people.

Yet, even as we allow for divergent perspectives on the reason for Jesus’ death, the New Testament presents the theological reason as foundational bedrock. Though it’s true that Jesus died “because those in power ordered him killed,” this answer doesn’t get to deepest truth. The bottom line is this, according to the New Testament: Jesus died for our sins, in fulfillment of God’s plan for salvation. The human agents who killed Jesus, though acting freely and responsibly, were, nevertheless, unwittingly carrying out the divine plan (1 Corinthians 2:8)


By claiming that the theological reason for Jesus’ death is somehow more basic than others, I’m not thereby denying the importance of historical explanations, but simply placing them in what I believe to be the ultimately proper context. You haven’t really grasped the reason for Jesus’ death until you’ve seen it in light of God’s plan. Of course the theological rationale for the necessity of Jesus’ death is also something that goes beyond historical proof. I can show you on the basis of historical data that early Christians believed Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan, but I can’t prove that this belief is true. If one takes the New Testament as God-breathed and authoritative, as I do, then one will accept that what the early Christians believed is also reflective of God’s own perspective


Ironically, the immense impact of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ made it both harder and easier to accept the idea that Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan for salvation. The film has made it harder because it exposed us to the brutal, bloody reality of crucifixion. As I have argued elsewhere, The Passion of the Christ forced people in to confront the scandal of the cross. Yet this film also made it easier for some people to see Jesus’ death as an expression of God’s loving plan. Almost all of those who view The Passion through the eyes of faith come away with a much deeper sense of God’s love and grace. They don’t blame the Jews for killing Christ, or Pontius Pilate, or even God. Rather, they take the blame on their own shoulders, realizing the Jesus died for their sins.


Let me close with the classic words of Isaac Watts. They seek to answer in a poetic way the reason for Jesus’ death on the cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joe Arnett

    Many thanks for your “Why Did Jesus Have to Die” series. I don’t comment very often because I don’t feel I have anything that meaniful to add. However, I just wanted you to know that I am very blessed by your blog and look forward to reading it every day.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Steve Spencer

    Dear Mark, I pretty much echo Joe’s post. Yours is one of about 6 blogs that I read EVERY day. I appreciate the time, energy and study you obviously put in to your blog articles. Keep up the great work! May the Lord continue to bless your life and ministry.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Joseph Fidelis Pereira

    First Of all I want to register my sincere thanks to Mark Roberts, for presenting such a wonderful Blog on Jesus. I am overwhelmed by his Knowledge in this regard. It given another historical angle on the life of Jesus and prevailing society and structure. I Have saved all the blogs and hopefully read repeatedly til I grasp it completely. Please keep continue blogging and sending me email. Thank You very Much. May His Almighty Bless You now and forever.
    Joseph F. Pereira, Vasai, India 401 203.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mark Klamer

    I loved this series, and your blog as well.

    I think your readers might be interested to learn that the poem by Isaac Watts has also been placed to music in a hymn. Hymn 474 in the Episcopal Hymn book. I suspect it is in others as well.

  • David Edmisten

    It is harder to confront, but necessary nonetheless, that Jesus had to die because each one of us has sinned. Only his death and resurrection can bring us back to God.

    Thank you for examining this issue thoroughly. It saddens me to see how often Jesus is depicted as just another martyr. Yes, throughout history, many have lost their lives to tyranny and standing up for what they believe. And each martyr gains our respect and admiration. But Jesus is wholly different. Only a world that has yet to recognize the stain of its sin can diminish the role of its saviour.

  • patriciazell

    The reason Christ had to die a temporary death goes way back to before our world was created. After God had created an alternative to Himself (the place of darkness, death, hate, deception, and physicality) and then created the angelic realm, Lucifer willingly chose the alternative and set his kingdom there. Before God went to this kingdom of evil to create our world (Genesis 1:2), He devised a plan to counter the onslaught of evil against His creation.

    So, when Satan came against Adam and Eve and tried to destroy the good that God had created in his kingdom, God set His plan in motion by making a promise while He related the effects that Satan’s deception would have on the human race. That promise that the woman’s seed would crush Satan’s head began the saga that led to Christ’s death on the cross.

    When Satan succeeded in conning Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he was able to insert a “dividing wall” between God and the human race. This wall, much like the two-sided mirrors found in interrogation rooms, did not effect God’s ability to see the human race, but kept the human race from seeing God.

    To make a long story short, Christ was born with his physical body from Mary and his inner man–the spirit of righteousness (freedom from sin or guilt)–from God. Christ chose to die on the cross for specific reasons, and he knew his death would be temporary. What made Christ’s death so powerful was that, in order to die, he had to give back his inner man (release his spirit) to God. Proverbs 12:28 states that there is no death in the pathway of righteousness. When Christ released his righteousness to God, he became sin (“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me…” is the cry of unbelief) and died. So, when Christ died, sin died and the dividing wall was obliterated! Satan’s power to keep the human race and God separated was forever destroyed.

    God’s plan didn’t end there. In order to assure that the human race could access the power of Christ’s victory over the kingdom of evil, God set in place a process by which people could be adopted as sons of God. Through the new birth, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism of fire, individuals are able to attain the full authority of Christ’s accomplishments and are able to take their places as sons of God. This authority, when implemented, will allow the sons of God to finish the work that Christ started on the cross–this authority will allow the sons of God to overcome and utterly defeat Satan and his kingdom. This is the good news of the gospel!

  • http://ISJESUSREALLYAGOD??? Joseph ASPEDin


  • Burning Tree

    Because he loves us so much. That is why! Good piece TY

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Thislove

    According to your theory, Jesus is only human being who died for the justice and this does not explain what Jesus did before he died and why he died on the cross. We need to consider how Jesus could retain his divine attributes while becoming a truly human being. For the incarnation to be “God with us,” Jesus could not have relinquished his divine attributes. Jesus did not forfeit his divine attributes in the incarnation. If he had, there would have been no incarnation, because deity would have been left behind. Rather, Christ left behind his reincarnate position – the full manifestation of his divine power and glory with the Father God and the Holy Spirit. There is nothing necessarily contradictory in the idea of the incarnation; that is , there are plausible ways of resolving the paradox. To resolve the charge that the incarnation is logically incoherent we need only offer an account of the incarnation that is both biblically orthodox and logically possible. God himself descended to earth as one of us to rescue us from our fallen plight. This is no mere philosophical puzzle, calling out to logicians for resolution.

  • Margo, Children’s Ministry Academy

    I haven’t yet had the chance to read your entire series on why Jesus had to die, but from what I’ve read thus far, I’m extremely impressed. You bring up some excellent points that I wouldn’t have even thought of before. And you really made me think, which is the best part about reading your blog posts. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • craig

    So glad He did die!

    I came to your blog from the church relevant site top 200 list. They have created a tremendous forum for finding new blogs that impact people.

    I hope my blog can be an encouragement to you also.

    I write it for encouragement and motivation daily.

    Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to watching the connections grow!

  • Dawn Mayes

    Thank you for an excellent post! This bring us back to the heart of the gospel and reminds us why we observe Lent: because we can’t celebrate the resurrection rightly without remembering why Jesus died.

  • Dave Candel

    Do you know my Jesus? It’s a song you know but it speaks of God’s love and our helpless estate* God became a man, lived a normal Jewish life extrordinarily according to the Torah Laws to the letter perfect, Died a cruel unjust Death for our sins, Rose from the Dead to declare His Innocence, our Justification-just-as-if-I-never-sinned! IF we don’t confess Him down here He won’t before the Father. But if we confess more and more we will lay up treasure in Heaven because I’m convinced Jesus Died for All and I’m so glad He did. Mercy there was multiplied to me, and Grace my fears relieved! I am a sinner and I know Jesus saved me. I just wish I could get every man there!!! Softly and Tenderly Jesus is calling O sinner come home.*
    Here’s a Bible believing Assembly Church:

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment L.W. Dickel

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, may I inquire as to the rumor that I shall be a human sacrifice for the sins of humankind? Praytell, who in the goddamned hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!? What are we, living in the fucking Stone Age!!?
    Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!? Art thou all fucking insane!!?
    Listen, brethren, as I tell you something of utmost importance. Stop immediately with the blood sacrifice bullshit. It’s barbaric, disgusting, sickening, immoral, vile, wicked and fucking outrageous . And makes us all look like a bunch of goddamn Cro-Magnon lunatics!!!”–Jesus Christ, the Thinking Mans Gospel

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