Why did Jesus have to die to save us?

This is a question that comes up time and time again. Everyone, even those who don’t believe in God, certainly have the impression that if God exists He must be all powerful. If God is all powerful, why couldn’t he have saved us in a less violent and less personally sacrificial manner than sending His only Son to be beaten, brutalized, humiliated, and then executed as a criminal? Why did Jesus have to die to save us? Couldn’t God have just said “Let them be saved” just like He said “Let there be light”? Let’s dig into this one a little bit.

First let’s answer the question in the most obvious way. Could God have saved us in some other way? No. The answer has to be no. In Luke 22 and Mark 14 we are told that Jesus pleaded with God 3 times in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His arrest for another way. This was Jesus’ greatest temptation in His human form. The answer He got from God, though, was no. At Jesus’ baptism and at Jesus’ transfiguration we are told that the heavens opened up and the voice of God came down saying “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” God loved Jesus desperately, He made a big show of that for everyone. So if He loved Jesus and He could have saved us in some other way, we can be assured that He would have. (Side note to this is how much this shows God loves us. He loved us so much He would send His only Son to a miserable and humiliating and painful death, just for us.) So is God limited then?

God is all powerful. The theological term is omnipotence (omni = all, potence = power). The Bible is relentless on this point, in the Old and New Testaments, that God indeed is all powerful. Here are just a few verses to illustrate.

Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Jeremiah 32:17 – Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for you.

Psalm 115:3 – But our God is in heaven, He does whatever He pleases.

Matthew 19:26 – With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Jesus speaking)

Revelation 19:6 – And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!”

Indeed, one of the many names for God (that is used over and over in the Bible) is The Almighty. God is indeed omnipotent. So the question stands, why did Jesus have to die to save us if God can do anything He wants?

To say God is all-powerful is not to say that God has no limits. Don’t misunderstand me. God is an infinite being and everything He has He has in full measure. He does whatever He wants. And that’s where the answer lies. I had a pastor once who said “I drink alcohol whenever I want to. I’ve never had a drop in my life.” Think about that for a second. Can God sin? God can sin whenever he wants to. He’s all powerful. But He never has. Why? Because He is limited by who He is. And God is not a sinner. Here are some of His other attributes:

  • He is perfectly righteous (never doing wrong)
  • He is perfectly just (always judging and punishing wrongdoing).
  • He is perfectly merciful (forgives those who do not deserve it).

How can justice and mercy exist in full in the same Person? As Jesus said, for men this would be impossible, but it’s not with God. How is not impossible with God? Because of Jesus. 

Jesus’ death on the cross is the outflow God’s perfect justice and perfect mercy. We are told in Genesis (and all over the New Testament) that justice for sin means death (Romans 6:26). If you sin, you will die. Sin deserves capital punishment. God’s righteousness means He cannot be around sin. God’s justice means that He will judge sin whenever He sees it. And God’s mercy means He will forgive sin wherever it is. He has chosen to do this through Christ’s sacrifice. Christ died and took the justice so that God could forgive our sin and be merciful.

God wanted us with Him in heaven because He created us to live with Him. But we sinned. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall (present perfect tense, or continually fall) short of the glory of God. Because of God’s righteousness He could not be around us. Someone had to die to be punished for our sin in order to appease God’s justice that is based on His righteousness. So rather than us dying (because God is also perfectly loving, and 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that He doesn’t desire for any of us to perish) He sent His Son to die in our place, which hurt Him very badly, in order to bring us back to Him where we belong. If not for Jesus’ sacrifice, we could not be in the presence of God. Ever. Sin was the problem. It was a problem that we could not take care of. So He did, through Christ. There was no other way because only the sacrifice of God could be sufficient to cover all of our sins. No man could have effected this salvation.

If God had just pronounced us forgiven, it would have negated His justice. If God would have just let us into heaven as sinful human beings, it would have negated His righteousness. If God would have let us all burn in hell for our sin (which we fully deserved), it would have negated His mercy and love. So the only way for Him to be all righteous, all just, all merciful and all loving, was for Christ, the God-Man, to die in our place. 

So is God all powerful? Absolutely. And He has used His vast power to bring us back to Him. All we must do is to trust that Christ’s sacrifice for us is sufficient to stand up in God’s court of law on our behalf, and He will indeed declare that all charges have been dropped.

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