7 things the death of Jesus accomplished.
Why was Jesus crucified? Often this question is met with a single answer. You might hear Jesus died to forgive us of our sins. Or, Jesus died to bring us into relationship with God. These are great answers, and they are certainly supported by the teachings of the bible. What is sometimes overlooked, however, is that the bible gives a whole host of things that the death of Jesus accomplished. I will highlight seven of them below (there are more that time didn’t allow me to write about!). But first I want to come at the question why did Jesus die from its most obvious historical angle.
Did the people who crucified Jesus think that by crucifying him they would have their sins forgiven by God? Did they believe that by crucifying Jesus God would defeat the devil? Or reconcile Jews and Gentiles? The most likely answer is No. The leaders of Israel in Jesus’ day believed that God forgave sins by offering sacrifices at the Jewish Temple. Those who killed Jesus didn’t think that Jesus was fighting against the devil. They thought Jesus was working for the devil. Furthermore, the Gospel accounts in the bible indicate that those in power crucified Jesus because they believe that he had committed crimes that should be punished by death. They claimed that Jesus incited riots, committed blasphemy, and engaged in treason (Jesus did claim to be a king after all). With this in mind, the most basic historical answer to the question why was Jesus crucified is this: Jesus was crucified because those in power believed he committed crimes punishable by death. That is why those is power crucified Jesus.
Still, it is obvious that the earliest Jesus followers, as well as Jesus himself, understood his crucifixion in radically deeper terms than this. They believed that by his crucifixion, Jesus profoundly impacted the way that God and humans relate to one another. So what were the things they claimed Jesus accomplished by being crucified? Here are just seven answers to that question:
- Jesus’ crucifixion was an atoning sacrifice to God for sin.
This is the one that many people are familiar with: Jesus died for my sins. That is, Jesus’ death was the means by which our sin is “covered”, or atoned for. Jesus’ death takes away our sin. This is arguably the most recognizable reason in our culture for why Jesus died. The New Testament is filled with sentences and paragraphs that discuss the issue of sin relative to Jesus’ crucifixion. Barrels of ink have been used over the millennia to bring understanding to this idea.
What I want to highlight briefly here is that throughout the Old and New Testament atonement sacrifice is anchored in the context of Israel’s worship. When Jesus died on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin, it was an act of worship to the God of Israel.
- Jesus’ crucifixion made peace between us and God.
In fact, the book of Colossians states that God “made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross” (Col. 2:20). Whatever hostility there was, is, or will be between people and God, it is the death of Jesus that brings peace.
Whenever you feel like there is enmity or hostility of any kind between you and God, know that it is the death of Jesus that brings peace between you and God. What a gift!
- Jesus’ crucifixion takes away our shame.
Roman crucifixion was a means of executing criminals. It was horrifically painful. But perhaps the real power of crucifixion was the public humiliation and shame that it heaped upon the one enduring it. The criminal would be stripped naked and then hung on a cross, exposed to the elements, for all to see, as they died. It was a way for the state to proclaim, “This is what we do to criminals.” It was an act of humiliation.
Yet the bible claims that Jesus “scorned the shame of the cross.” That is, Jesus considered the shame of crucifixion to be hollow, empty, worthless. It was nothing. Jesus had this posture because he believed that God would vindicate him, God would prove to all that Jesus was not only innocent, but that he was doing exactly what God wanted him to do. And God did just that. Three days after Jesus was crucified God raised Jesus from the dead, and then placed Jesus in a position to reign over all of creation. What power does shame have when God is on your side? Well, in a word, none.
In the book of Romans, chapter 10, Paul states that all who put their trust in Jesus as King will never be put to shame. Shame has the same hollow, empty affect on us as it had on Jesus. All because Jesus endured the shame of the cross, and scorned it.
- Jesus’ crucifixion demonstrated God’s profound love for us.
The best line in the bible in this respect is Romans 5:8, “For God demonstrated his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus didn’t willingly go to his crucifixion for us after we felt bad about things we’ve done. Nor did Jesus willingly offer up his life for us after we repented, or once we finally got our lives together. No, Jesus gave his life up for us at the moment when we were rebelling against God.
This demonstration of love should have deep impact on our understanding of our worth to God. Sometimes it is suggested that as sinners we are worthless garbage piles. From a human standpoint, perhaps that is the case intrinsically. But relationally the statement above from Romans suggests that even in a sinful state people have profound value and worth to God. So much so that God asked his chosen king to die on our behalf.
- Jesus’ crucifixion enthroned Jesus as God’s chosen king of God’s people.
This is exactly how the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) present the crucifixion. Only this enthronement is backwards. Jesus is given a crown, but of thorns. Jesus is given a “royal” robe, but to mock him. Jesus is lifted up, but on a cross not on a throne. And there is a proclamation that Jesus is “King of the Jews”, but as an attempt to shame him. By doing this the gospel writers are portraying the enthronement of Jesus as the king of God’s people. There is an absurdity to this, no doubt. But there is also, for those who follow Jesus, a sharp divergence with so-called worldly power. If crucifixion is the way that God decided to enthrone the king of God’s people, then what impact does this have on those who follow this king?
- Jesus’ crucifixion brings the story of Israel to its climax.
How is sin atoned for? What role does Israel’s king play in God’s mission on earth? Why did Jesus choose 12 disciples as special in some sense? What is the function of a high priest? And why do I need one? The answers to these questions, and many, many more like them are almost impossible to answer without reference to the nation of Israel. Jesus understood his role and mission on earth as the culmination of Israel’s grand story. So did his earliest followers. The great speeches in the first part of the book of Acts make this clear. We would do well to follow this lead by anchoring the significance of Jesus’ death within the story of Israel.
- Jesus’ crucifixion set the standard for how Jesus followers are to live.
Time and again the New Testament writers point to the self-sacrificial act of Jesus’ crucifixion as the standard by which God’s people should live. It is not the painful nature of the sacrifice that is emphasized per se. Rather, the emphasis for the early Christian teachers was the willingness of Jesus to endure the cross for the sake of others. In this way, the act of Jesus’ crucifixion was one of self-sacrificial love for another. Jesus’ life was not taken from him. Jesus offered his life up. And it is this self-sacrificial posture that is the standard for Christians in the New Testament. In the bible, this act of Jesus becomes the standard for family ethics, handling church conflict, responding to opposition, interpreting hardships, to name only a few. It is no exaggeration to say that the early church understood their ethics primarily through the cross of Jesus their king.
Those are only seven of the accomplishments of Jesus’ death. His death also defeated the power of evil, healed us, reconciled us to one another, and brought victory to Jesus the king to name a few more. The list above is certainly not exhaustive. But I do hope that this list broadens our understanding of the incredible impact that Jesus’ death had on humanity, and all of creation