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Why did Jesus have to die?

CMI often receives hostile messages from non-Christians who do not understand key points of Christian theology. Even though this particular individual disregarded our rule that those who write in provide us with a real name and contact information, we thought the answer to this question was too critical not to answer.

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‘Yohan Z.’ wrote:

Why did Jesus die?
Eze 18:20 “The being who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the crookedness of the father, nor the father bear the crookedness of the son. The righteousness of the righteous is upon himself, and the wrongness of the wrong is upon himself.”

Lita Sanders, CMI-US responds:

Yohan’s implication is that since we claim Jesus was sinless, He should not have died. Of course, this goes back to one of the foundational truths of the gospel.

Ezekiel 18:20 is actually talking about temporal reward and punishment, not Heaven and Hell. It is a reference back to Deuteronomy 24:16: “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” Deuteronomy says that judicially, everyone is to be punished for his own transgression of the Law. Ezekiel reaffirms that principle, and says that even God operates like that.

But on an eternal level, the principle of these passages actually condemns everyone to death, because every one of us has sinned. The point is that no one is condemned for his father’s sin, each of us has quite enough of our own sin to do that.

The problem is that even in the Old Testament, God saved sinners. Even when He wiped out all the people and land animals on earth, He didn’t ‘finish the job’—He preserved Noah, his family, and the animals on the Ark. He forgave David’s adultery and murder. Again and again, we see that God is a God who forgives sin. But the Old Testament also proclaims God’s righteousness and holiness. How can a righteous, holy God overlook sin that must be punished? If God justifies the guilty, He is doing precisely what he condemns in human judges.

That is where Jesus comes in. Jesus, in the Incarnation, became human. He lived a perfectly sinless human life—He obeyed God perfectly, both doing everything the Law commanded, and not breaking one prohibition. This is why the first 30 years of Jesus’ life are just as crucial as His death and resurrection. When Jesus died, He was a perfect sacrifice. He was a sinless human willingly standing in for the sinners. But He also had to be God, because He had to bear an infinite weight of God’s wrath, which no mere created being could do.

When a sinner trusts in Jesus, the Bible says that two related things happen. First, Jesus’ sacrifice pays for our sin, so that we are no longer subject to eternal punishment for our rebellion against God. That is, our sins are imputed (credited to the account of) Jesus (Isaiah 53:6, 10). But if that were all, we would only have a ‘neutral’ standing in God’s eyes, so salvation doesn’t stop there. We’re also credited with Jesus’ righteous acts, so when God looks at us, it’s as if we were the ones who obeyed God. Jesus also is at work today in Heaven interceding for us—our advocate (defense lawyer) with the Father (1 John 2).

So Jesus died because we deserved to, but God in His mercy wanted to give us a way out. Jesus’ death was the only way that God could save sinners.

Published: 14 June 2014