The Passover and other sacrifices foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He willingly came to die for the sins of humanity. But why did He have to die?
A foundational doctrine of the Christian faith is that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ paid the penalty for the sins of mankind—that without this act of love by the Son of God, humanity would have no hope of life after death.
But why was the sacrifice of Jesus Christ necessary?
The designation “Lamb of God” reflects back to the time when Israel was delivered from ancient Egypt under the direction of Moses. Before the 10th plague—the death of the firstborn—Israelite families were instructed to kill a lamb and brush some of its blood on the top and sides of the door frames of their dwellings. The lamb that was slain for this purpose was called the Passover lamb, and the observance of this ceremony was known as the Passover.
During that first Passover in Egypt, God was willing to accept the blood of the Passover lamb on the door frames of the Israelites’ dwellings in place of the blood of their firstborn. The firstborn of Israelites who rejected the blood of the lamb would not have been spared from death. The blood of this lamb thus enabled the Israelites to escape the penalty that was coming upon the land of Egypt (Exodus 12:21-24).
Passover was to become an annual observance in Israel so that they would remember how God delivered them from death. Of course, the experiences of ancient Israel all looked forward to even more important spiritual lessons for Christians (1 Corinthians 10:11). Jesus Christ became the Passover Lamb for the Christian Church. The apostle Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 5:7, “For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.”
But why would one Man have to give His life in order for us to be forgiven? In order to see why, we have to first go back to the book of Genesis.
The first sin
Genesis 3 gives the account of the first sin by mankind, specifically Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had warned them that the death penalty would be the consequence if they disobeyed (Genesis 2:17).
Something very significant took place once they yielded to the serpent’s subtlety. Not only would they have to die at some point, but they were thrust from the Garden of Eden and angels were placed at the entrance so that they could not return (Genesis 3:24). Access to the tree of life was no longer possible. Their relationship with God was altered dramatically. Sin had entered the human realm and had created a separation from God.
Sin is the antithesis of God’s perfect, righteous character. It is abhorrent to Him, a horrible stain on the beautiful creation He made. Sin is the cause of pain, suffering and all the evils in this world. A just and righteous God cannot accept or coexist with sin.
This separation from the presence of God is highlighted through the ritual ceremonies that were performed by the priesthood at the tabernacle, ancient Israel’s central place of worship. No one was permitted to come into God’s presence, represented by the most holy place within the tabernacle, except the high priest once a year.
God reveals the meaning of this spiritual counterpart for Christians in Hebrews 9:8: “The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.” The way into God’s presence had not been open since Adam and Eve’s sin.
How could the breach between God and mankind be healed? How could we humans once again have a relationship with the holy God and come directly into His company? How would we ever be able to become His spiritual sons and daughters and call Him Father?
God will not abide with unforgiven sin (Isaiah 59:2). Our just God cannot simply overlook the deadly disease of sin; He must remove it and cleanse us from its evil effects. This is why the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was necessary—for Him to pay the penalty for our sins and to become our Savior.
Reconciled to God
The gospel contains information about how humanity can be forgiven, once again walk with God on a daily basis, and receive the promise of life after physical death.
The apostle Paul explains that the foundation of the Christian message is one of reconciliation. He states in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.”
God enabled the breach to be healed through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It was God’s love for us that moved Him to offer His own Son for mankind (John 3:16). The entire thrust of the Christian Church and ministry is about this reconciliation. But how was this accomplished and why did Jesus have to die such a terrible death?
The plan for human salvation is God’s. The method that He chose for the removal—forgiveness—of our sins was that a member of the God family—the Word who became flesh (John 1:1-2, 14)—would come to earth as the human being Jesus Christ and die for our sins. Paul expresses this profound act of mercy in Philippians 2:5-8:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Revised Standard Version).
God’s love and justice
Through Christ’s death God demonstrated the depth of His love for us and the hideous nature of sin. To have dealt with humanity’s sins in a casual manner would have been cheap forgiveness and would have sent the message to humanity that rebellion and the rejection of God’s laws were not that serious of matters. By sending His Son to be beaten and crucified, the price of our forgiveness became very costly for God, powerfully demonstrating to us that evil does matter.
As stated in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John further wrote in 1 John 4:9-10, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation [atoning sacrifice] for our sins.”
Jesus Christ was totally committed to being this sacrifice to show His love for us as well. As He taught on the night of the last Passover that He kept with His disciples before offering Himself as that perfect Passover lamb—the perfect sacrifice for sin: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). John also wrote of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”
Christ’s suffering is also a reminder of the terrible suffering that sin produces. Our just God will not minimize how horrible sin is.
Much of the focus in the book of Romans is on showing that God is just. If God were to arbitrarily forgive some and not others, He would not be just. Sin requires a penalty to be paid. God mercifully allows Jesus’ sacrifice to pay our penalty, but that does not mean He simply overlooks our sin.
Part of what should sober us is the realization that God has not simply wiped the slate clean; Someone else has paid our richly deserved penalty. God cannot overlook sin and be just. He is the One who declared that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If there is no death, the wages have not been paid.
Why is it so important for us that God is just? Because our faith is based upon the character of God. If God were arbitrary, it would be impossible for us to have faith in Him. We would never know when He was going to demand justice and when He would simply overlook unrighteousness. We can be thankful God’s character is both just and loving.
Set in God’s plan
The details of Christ’s sacrifice were prophesied in the Old Testament. Isaiah 52:14 reveals, “Just as many were astonished at you, so His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.”
Jesus was scourged and beaten just before His crucifixion. Isaiah prophesied that He would be almost unrecognizable and that it would be one of the most severe beatings man had ever survived.
The next chapter shows that the Son of God was beaten for our transgressions and our sins and that He finally gave His life’s blood as a complete sacrifice on our behalf—to reconcile us to the Father by offering Himself for our sins. This was all according to God’s will and plan for enabling humanity to be forgiven and eventually have eternal life (Isaiah 53:4-5, 10).
Jesus was so intent on offering Himself totally and completely while on the cross, that He even refused to drink a mild potion to dull the pain of crucifixion (Matthew 27:34). Out of love for us, He gave His entire life fully and totally as an offering for sin. He was willing to suffer and die for us so that there would be no compromise with the enormity of sin. God the Father then accepted this incredibly selfless sacrifice of His only begotten Son who had never sinned. (Study deeper into the last hours of Jesus’ life in our article “Seven Last Sayings of Jesus.”)
God will now allow us to come into His presence if we acknowledge and accept what His Son did for us. If we acknowledge our sins (1 John 1:9), are truly repentant (Acts 26:20), and are willing to forgive others (Matthew 6:14), then God promises that He will forgive us and give us the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism and the laying on of hands. If we do these things, He will then choose to remember our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12).
This forgiveness cannot be earned by any good works on our behalf. It comes through faith and by the grace of God. Paul declared in Romans 3:24 that we are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
What about you? Have you truly been reconciled to your Creator? Are you considering repentance and baptism? Be sure to read the many informative articles related to “Change” and the full message of the gospel of the Kingdom of God found on this website. Then act on what you learn from the Bible. Appreciation for the awesome sacrifice of Jesus Christ demands no less!