Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Did Jesus Have to Die? The Perspective of the First Christians, Part 2

The Means of Reconciliation

In my last post, I examined one of the very earliest Christian statements of the purpose of Jesus’ death. According to the tradition encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 15, Jesus died “for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (15:3). Yet this text doesn’t explicate further the way in which the death of Christ deals with the problem of human sin. For this explication we must turn to 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


This text assumes that our relationship with God outside of Christ is not a happy one. If we need to be reconciled to God, then we are not just out of touch with God, but alienated from him. Indeed, as Paul says rather bluntly in Romans 5:10, sin has made us God’s enemies. Many people today think that the basic human problem is merely a lack of knowledge of God. If we search for God, then we can find him and have relationship with him. But the biblical perspective is much bleaker at first. Yes, we lack knowledge of God. Yet this is only a symptom of a far deeper and in fact terminal disease – our eternal alienation from God because of sin.

So how does God deal with our sin, so that we might be reconciled to him? We find the answer in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Though scholars continue to debate the precise nuances of this verse, its basic sense is clear. Allow me to paraphrase: “For our sake, God the Father treated Jesus as if he were sin itself, so that in Jesus we might experience right-relationship with God the Father, the kind of relationship that Jesus himself had with the Father.”


When did the Father treat Jesus as if he were sin? In the crucifixion. Far more horrible than the physical pain Jesus experienced was the spiritual reality he endured, being forsaken by his Heavenly Father, entering into the very essence of Hell. This was necessary, not because Jesus himself deserved it, but because humanity deserved it. Yet in God’s amazing grace, Jesus’ suffering counted for all of us. In his death Jesus bore the sin of the world. So we read in 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Behind the logic of 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 2:24 we find, once again, the image of the suffering Servant of God in Isaiah 53: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and be his bruises we are healed.”


What is the result of Jesus’ being treated as if he were sin? We get to “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Or, to put it differently, we are reconciled to God. That which once separated us from God and in fact made us God’s enemies – sin – has now been banished by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Thus we can experience reconciliation with God, and this impacts everything in life. Indeed, when we’re in Christ, “there is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Not only are we ourselves made new, but also we begin to live in the new creation of the future.

To sum up what we’ve seen in 2 Corinthians 5, Jesus had to die in order to regarded by God as if he were sin, so that we humanity might be reconciled to God and live in right-relationship with him. Through the death of Jesus, we experience personal renewal and, indeed, the beginning of the renewal of all creation.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Your Name

    In the second to last para. you say: “This was necessary, not because Jesus himself deserved it, but because humanity deserved it.” Do you really mean “deserved” or “needed”?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment vivian

    you know, i am about to resign from being a christian because of this obsession with sin and its “redemption” through what is basically just a whitewashed, glorified version of human sacrifice. do we really think God, creator of the entire universe, would really require someone’s death in order to accept one of His own creations–human beings? this is not to say people do not become alienated from God, since we do have free will. And it’s not to say that Jesus wasn’t the son of God, but in fact, we are all children of God. Does a parent require the best child to die in order to love the rest of them? In my view, it is best to focus on what jesus asked us to do–feed the hungry, clothe the sick, make the world a better place–than be continually obsessed with how we can become closer to God through further analysis of blood washing away sin.

  • Mark D. Roberts

    Vivian: To be sure, this is not easy. But it comes down to an understanding of the basic human problem. If sin is our basic problem, then redemption is needed, somehow.

    You need to remember that the death of Christ is not a matter of God doing something to some separate Son. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This was an act of God, God the Son. A parent might very well sacrifice himself or herself for the sake of a beloved child. This is what God did for us through Christ.

    I’m not sure we need further analysis of blood washing away sin. We need to accept God’s gift through faith and then, by grace, begin to live out the life of caring and love for others.

  • James M. Becher

    Very well put, both in your article and your answer to Vivian. I do agree with the first comment, however, that “deserved” should be “needed.” On my listed site, I show how the reason for His death is also evident in His last words from the cross.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment vivian

    thanks for taking the time to reply. i still believe that what you are saying is a convoluted rationale for what, in the end, is a belief in a need for sacrifice in order to be close to God. I simply do not agree that such is needed. and if it is not God requiring it of someone else, but sacrificing himself–how does that make sense? How does God have to sacrifice himself, in order to be reconciled to us? But I respect your beliefs. I am in no way an atheist or an unbeliever. I simply have a different conception of God and humanity, and of Jesus, that I believe is valid based on my own experience and learning.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jon Biggar

    I guess it comes down to whether you belive that the Bible is the true revelation of the word of God. If you do, then it is quite clear in the Bible–from Jesus’ own words even–that sacrifice is necessary to reconcile us with God: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45, NLT).

    On the other had, if you don’t accept that the Bible is God’s true revelation, then we aren’t on the same page, and there’s little grounds for persuasion either way.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jan

    I also have trouble with the usage of the word sin. I feel, in fact, the word is overused to the point we’re not all using it to mean the same things. But assuming that Paul saw sin as a cosmos of evil set loose in the world, Jesus’ death and resurrection overcame sin/evil. Overcame the powers of this world.

    Nor do I understand why death on a cross was necessary to reconcile us to God. It’s a mystery. I think this much is obvious: Crucifixion was a very public and certain death. There was no question that Jesus might have somehow escaped death on a cross by any subterfuge. Crucifixion was also unexpected. It was a shameful and humiliating death that most religious people of that time (and this time) would reject as suitable for a messiah. God gave us a great lesson in abandoning our preconceived ideas of a savior.

    Through crucifixion, Christ shared the pain and the suffering that is suffered by humanity. When he became human, he didn’t exclude himself from the ugliest aspect of humanity. He knew rejection, betrayal, fear and pain. In death, he shared with us the most painful moments of being human.

    Sacrifice was probably a more meaningful explanation to the culture of the time than it is today. It was accepted that something of value and beauty had to be given up to open our hearts to God. We’re less likely to make that connection today. Sacrifice has an ancient and paganistic overtone to modern ears. But if nothing else, the crucifixion should teach us compassion for the suffering of innocents and the will to endure the injustice of this world to gain a greater good.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bonnie Shrewsberry

    Thanks for posting, I enjoyed reading it. I agree, had it not been for Jesus taking our punishment of sin- we’d all be in trouble. It can be hard to understand a love like that, but it makes us realize, (hopefully)just how God feels about sin. Sometimes I think we overlook it in our own lives, and it takes the picture of Christs death to make us more aware of just how serious it is. As Christians we should always try to remember the price that was paid on our behalf- and to strive to live like Christ, and give glory to God.

  • Dave Candel

    All throughout the Old Covenant animal sacrifice was instructed. Even in Genesis 15 Abraham saw God walk between the animal sacrificed and was promised God would judge the land and give it to us from squatters or hermits illegally dwelling on it. God performed the earliest animal sacrifice in providing skins for Adam and Eve. This is after they disobeyed. The Passover showed as a whole typification of Christ in many aspects. The Death Angel (Christophany many and I believe,) passed over the homes of Israelites who put the Blood in a motion of a forming cross on the doorpost and lintel of homes. The firstborn was originally the inheritance God wants. Christ is, quoting Paul, “the firstborn of many brethren.” And not to change the subject the lamb had to be sacrificed in the Old Testament at the time about which it was to become most useful, and to be cut in a quick clean way, and to have been tenderly treated, kissed if you will, in order to be without blemish or spot. All this typified Christ’s sacrifice of Himself. Isaiah chapter 53 though removed from many Jewish Temples shows us how perfectly portraited Christ’s death’s meaning and purpose was to become laid out by the Prophet many centuries before it happened. There are a few hundred such prophecies that came true concerning Jesus of Nazareth Who is noted to be Teacher, Healer, Deliverer, Miracleworker, Redeemer, and King! Josh MCDowell’s book, More Evidence That Demands A Verdict is an excellent book on this Defense of faith. Remember Davey And Goliath, the Tv Show claymation? Nothing affected me mmore as a boy than to see the good side win and the bad side lose because life would be portrayed real and truly in it. How could the bad people get better? They repented. If they didn’t Davey was taught a lesson by their consequences. Remember Jesus taught about hell and heaven more than anybody and was crucified because of weakness yet lives by the Power Dunamis of God! (II Corinthians 13:4.)

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