Jesus’ death on the cross is central to the Christian faith. He achieved salvation for us through His crucifixion and resurrection. His death is also at the heart of the gospel message (1 Corinthians 2:2).
In spite of its importance, most Christians have only a basic understanding of Jesus’ death. If asked why He died, they would respond, “To forgive my sins.” This answer is correct and sufficient for saving faith; yet it is also simplistic and incomplete.
Jesus’ death on the cross has many aspects of meaning. He did die to forgive our sins, but He did it in multiple ways! Discipleship requires us to grow in our understanding of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.
Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for our sins. In the Old Testament, God allowed Israel to sacrifice animals on their behalf. Yet those sacrifices were insufficient, “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
When John the Baptist sees Jesus he says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36). Jesus is the sacrifice provided by God who took our guilt upon Himself and was punished for our sins in our place.
Jesus’ death bought our redemption. “Redeem” means to set someone free by paying their ransom. Although we used to be slaves to sin, Jesus set us free by paying the price for our ransom.
Jesus says this is the reason why He came: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul says, “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness” (Titus 2:14).
Jesus’ death secured our justification. “Justify” means to declare someone “not guilty.” Although we were convicted and condemned as lawbreakers, we stand acquitted before God because Jesus served our sentence for us.
Paul says, “[Jesus] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 4:25 – 5:1).
Jesus’ death produced reconciliation. “Reconcile” means to bring people back together. Although our sins separated us from God and put hostility between us, Jesus has reunited us with Him.
Paul reminds us, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through his death to present you holy in his sight” (Colossians 1:22-23).
Jesus’ death was our propitiation. “Propitiate” means to appease someone or turn away wrath. Although our sins placed us under God’s wrath, Jesus appeased Him by dying on the cross and deflected His wrath away from us.
The NIV translates “propitiation” as “atoning sacrifice.” Paul says, “God presented [Jesus] as a sacrifice of atonement,” or propitiation (Romans 3:25). John says, “[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice,” or propitiation, “for our sins” (1 John 2:2).
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